Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

‘Illegal’ Cavity Search Won’t Help Husband

MANHATTAN (CN) - Vermont state troopers played all sorts of dirty trucks to find drugs in a young woman's vagina, but that's tough luck for her accused drug-trafficker husband, the 2nd Circuit ruled.

Valentino Anderson, a 48-year-old from Rutland, Vt., and his wife Crystal, hoped to escape heroin charges that carry 20-year maximum sentences by suppressing evidence resulting from a search that a federal judge said "shocks the conscience."

As recounted in a 2nd Circuit opinion, the state trooper's antics were a civil libertarian's nightmare with elements that could have been dreamed up by perverse Keystone Kops.

In 2012, hours before Halloween, state troopers pulled over the couple and a third passenger for ostensibly driving without their lights on after they left a gas station in Brattleboro.

Once the husband left the car, he allegedly told senior trooper Michael Studin that his wife had "problems with heroin and crack cocaine."

Meanwhile, Studin's partner, trooper Max Trenosky, found drug paraphernalia in his wife's handbag and residue in her jacket pocket. The troopers believed she hid narcotics on her person based on the reaction of drug-sniffing dog.

The troopers let the husband and third passenger go, but they told the then-29-year-old wife that she would be taken into police barracks for "investigatory purposes" while they applied for a warrant for a body cavity search.

They did not tell her that she was under arrest, the court noted.

"Mrs. Anderson informed the troopers that she knew her rights and that the officers had no grounds for obtaining such a warrant," the appellate opinion recounts.

She was right, but because she was handcuffed to a chair in a processing room, she did not learn that a state judge threw out the troopers' application until it was too late.

Another female officer allegedly hid the news three hours later when she entered the room and told the suspect, "just so you know, he's going to see the judge right now and get that all signed off, alright?"

Another half hour later, Crowley told Anderson that "we're going to be headed to the hospital, okay?"

At this point, Anderson appeared "disheveled, groggy and uncommunicative" in police videos, the opinion said.

Crowley goaded the suspect to talk to her because she was also "a girl" and the boys could be "a little brusque" and "hard to talk to," but Anderson stuck to her guns, the ruling states.

"[L]ike I said, you show me the warrant [or] there's no point," Anderson said, according to the ruling. (Brackets in original)

Even after being shown the unsigned warrant, the perceptive Anderson pressed the troopers about where she could find the judge's signature, according to the opinion.

Well into the early morning hours of Halloween, Trenosky finally made Anderson drop her guard by needling her about how her husband supposedly threw her "under the bus" back at Brattleboro, according the complaint.

The husband had not, in fact, incriminated her in any trafficking when he talked to police, the opinion says.

"At that point, Mrs. Anderson began to cry and said that she was not willing to risk a lengthy period of incarceration to protect her husband," the opinion states. "Then, Trenosky finally read Mrs. Anderson her Miranda warnings and asked if she would speak with him. She signed a waiver form at 4:22 a.m. on the morning of October 31, some six hours after she had been arrested."

Only after Anderson removed the drugs from a condom stashed in her vagina in Crowley's presence, did Trenosky tell her the search warrant had been denied, according to the opinion.

A federal judge slammed the troopers' "egregious" conduct in a ruling calling the evidence "inadmissible for any purpose."

Reversing the decision in regard to the husband on Monday, U.S. Circuit Judge Barrington Parker noted that the Supreme Court allowed evidence from a "flagrantly illegal" search to be used against a third party more than three decades ago.

In that 1980 case, United States v. Payner, a high court majority allowed evidence of a bad search to be used against an Ohio businessman.

Even this decision had its limits in instances of torture, Parker noted.

Although Anderson's treatment was "deceptive, coercive and illegal," it did not involve "conduct, such as torture, so beyond the pale of civilized society that no court could countenance it," the opinion states.

Joined by Gerard Lynch and Susan Carney, Parker readmitted the evidence against Valentino Anderson, but not against his wife, who pleaded down to charges giving her a sentence of time served.

The U.S. Attorney's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Valentino Anderson's attorney Richard Bothfeld of the Burlington-based firm Bothfeld & Volk P.C. also did not respond as this story went to press.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.