WORTHINGTON — A lengthy court process culminated Tuesday in the sentencing of Worthington resident Jose Lugo Jr., 29, to 68 months in prison for second-degree controlled substance crime.
Lugo was arrested in February 2015 and charged with the controlled substance offense as well as misdemeanor driving after revocation and petty misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia. A Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force agent had requested a traffic stop after observing Lugo leaving a home that was known to be a drug sale location — and in a vehicle whose registered owner had a felony warrant.
Although Lugo was not the person whose name was on the warrant, the Worthington Police Department officer who conducted the stop recalled that Lugo had been previously convicted of drug offenses, and drug paraphernalia had been discovered in the vehicle when its registered owner had been stopped on another occasion. As a result, the officer had a K9 unit do a sniff of the vehicle's exterior.
The K9 alerted on the vehicle, enabling officers to conduct a search of the vehicle's interior. They found baggies with a white crystalline substance (suspected to be methamphetamine) and a glass pipe with burnt residue, weighing a total of 13.5 grams.
Following his arrest, Lugo contested the grounds of the K9 sniff. He argued the fact that he had been leaving a known drug house and driving the car of someone who had previous drug offenses was not enough to warrant the sniff.
Fifth Judicial District Judge Gordon Moore agreed with Lugo, and ordered that the drug-related charges be dismissed in August 2015. In his order, Moore noted that the arresting officer "did not visibly see any other signs of drug trafficking or drug use when he looked into the vehicle such as odor of drug use, the presence of drug paraphernalia, or drugs themselves. There was no evidence presented to the Court regarding Defendant appearing to be under the influence of have recently used controlled substances.
"Because law enforcement did not have a reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal drug activity, the expansion of the stop was improper. Any evidence obtained in regard to the improper search must be suppressed and the charges dismissed, except for the Defendant’s driving after revocation charge," Moore wrote.
Shortly thereafter, the Nobles County Attorney's office appealed Moore's decision in the Minnesota Court of Appeals. It was argued that Moore was wrong to order that all the evidence be suppressed, because both drug offenses Lugo was charged with were based on evidence collected by the K9 sniff. The court reversed Moore's order and remanded the case back to Nobles County District Court.
After the Court of Appeals issued its ruling, Lugo's original charges were reinstated and he was required to complete the judicial process.
Last month, Lugo pleaded guilty to the charge of second-degree controlled substance crime, with the other charges dismissed in the plea deal. He received his sentence Tuesday morning.
Fifth Judicial District Judge Darci Bentz sentenced Lugo to 68 months in prison, with credit for 925 days previously served. He will serve his time at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud.