Idaho Supreme Court

The Idaho Supreme Court building in Boise.

The Idaho Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that a state law regarding how motorists must display temporary registration permits in their vehicles is unconstitutionally vague — so it didn’t provide probable cause to pull over a North Idaho woman whose car was subsequently searched and she was arrested for drug possession.

Wednesday’s ruling means Samantha Nicole Cook’s 2016 felony conviction for possession of a controlled substance is overturned, and the case is remanded back down to the district court in Kootenai County with instructions that Cook’s motion to suppress the seized evidence should have been granted.

The woman, who was represented in the appeal by the Deputy State Appellate Public Defender Jenny Swinford, was pulled over just after midnight when a sheriff’s deputy noticed her vehicle didn’t have either front or rear license plates. As the vehicle was slowing and pulling over, the officer noticed a piece of paper in the rear window of Cook’s car. It was a temporary registration permit, but the officer couldn’t read it because condensation from rain had collected on the window.

The registration was valid; the officer was able to read the temporary permit once he wiped the condensation off the outside of the window.

He questioned the driver, detected the smell of marijuana, and searched the vehicle, finding heroin and methamphetamine. Cook was arrested and submitted a conditional guilty plea to felony possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine, while she appealed over the search. You can read my full story here at (subscription required), or pick up Thursday’s edition of the Idaho Press.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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