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State appeals court upholds I-94 drug dealing conviction

An appeals court rejected a convicted drug trafficker's arguments that he was stopped because of his race and that some of a state trooper's testimony was improperly admitted at trial.

In a decision released Tuesday, the District III Court of Appeals upheld Ernest M. Moore's conviction on one count each of possession of heroin and possession of cocaine with intent to deliver and two counts of dealer possession of controlled substances without a tax stamp. In April 2007 St. Croix County Judge Scott Needham sentenced Moore to seven years six months in state prison followed by six years six months of extended supervision.

Moore, 43, St. Paul, was arrested Oct. 28, 2005, after plastic bags containing 63.5 grams of cocaine and 151.5 grams of heroin were found under the hood of his car.

Moore had been stopped by Trooper Lawrence Brown after a caller complained about a car driving erratically on I-94. Because Brown thought Moore was being deceptive during questioning, the officer radioed to ask for a criminal history check and called for a K-9 unit.

During Moore's trial before a St. Croix County jury, Trooper Brown testified that based on the behavior of the K-9 dog, he expected the drugs were hidden as a "suicide load."

Brown explained that "is a load where somebody's made so many trips that they don't even bother to try to hide it anymore. They just throw it in a plastic bag under the hood."

Moore argued that Brown's remarks were improper expert testimony and inadmissible evidence of previous bad acts.

Moore also argued that Brown didn't have reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop and claimed the real reason Brown stopped him was that he is African American.

While Moore claimed Brown and the State Patrol make a practice of stopping and searching African Americans and Hispanics without sufficient cause, the appeals court said no evidence was offered to support that allegation.

According to the appeals court decision, Brown followed Moore because the State Patrol received a call that Moore's car was "all over the road" and almost sideswiped another vehicle. Brown stopped Moore after noticing a defective brake light.

As for the "suicide load" statements, the appeals court agreed with Needham that Brown's testimony was neither expert testimony nor evidence of Moore's earlier bad acts.

"It was simply Brown's opinion about where he thought the drugs would be located," wrote the appeals court.