Evidence allowed in Aspen cocaine case
ASPEN – By a narrow 4-3 decision, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday that incriminating evidence collected by Aspen police can be used against an Eastern European man arrested more than a year ago in what started as an immigration sting.
In doing so, the Supreme Court reversed Pitkin County District Judge Gail Nichols’ November order that suppressed evidence that officers gathered from defendant Andrian Arapu’s residence. Among the items were a .38-caliber revolver and several packages of cocaine weighing a total of 1.5 ounces.
The high court’s opinion means that Chief Deputy District Attorney Arnold Mordkin can move forward with the prosecution; without the evidence, he had virtually no case against Arapu, 26, of Moldova.
“We can set it for trial again,” Mordkin said.
Before his arrest, Arapu had been living at the Copper Horse apartment building on Main Street.
Acting on a tip that Arapu had been living in the United States illegally and had a firearm, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, along with assistance from the Aspen Police Deparment, went to his home on April 6, 2011.
There, ICE officials arrested Arapu, while Aspen Police Detective Walter Chi, with Arapu’s permission, went inside the house. While in the residence, Chi reportedly saw such incriminating evidence as a bag containing what appeared to be cocaine, leading him to obtain a search warrant on the property.
But in November, one day before Arapu was to stand jury trial on charges of unlawful possession of cocaine, attempted distribution of cocaine and possessing a deadly weapon while committing controlled-substance crimes, Nichols ruled that police obtained the evidence illegally after executing a search warrant on the residence.
The judge determined that Chi should not have remained in Arapu’s residence after ICE agents took him into custody. Nichols also ruled that Chi, while in the apartment unit, exceeded Arapu’s scope of consent by asking another woman, who was in the residence at the time, for her identification. That woman, Yelena Inozemtseva, who was 24 years old at the time of her arrest, went free in May 2011 after prosecutors determined they lacked enough evidence to convict her.
In its 15-page ruling reversing Nichols decision, the high court noted that “We, accordingly, find that the trial court erred in finding Detective Chi was unlawfully in the apartment when he observed the open bag containing drugs, and therefore reverse the trial court’s suppression of the drug-related evidence.”
A dissenting opinion offered by three justices states that Chi’s stay at the apartment unit exceeded Arapu’s permission to be there, reasoning that once Arapu was arrested by ICE officials, Chi “was no longer lawfully within the apartment pursuant to the initial consent he received from Arapu.”
Arapu’s attorney, John Van Ness, said Monday morning that he was aware of the ruling but yet to read it.
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