ASSISTANT Public Defender Vina Seelam said police had ample opportunity to seek and obtain a warrant to search her client’s vehicle, but they failed to do so and instead conducted an unlawful warrantless search.

Seelam represents Yuzhu Zhang who is accused of attempting to smuggle from California through mail 4.9 pounds of methamphetamine, which has a street value of approximately $700,000, authorities said.

Zhang, 48, was charged with importation of contraband, trafficking and possession of a controlled substance. 

He has denied the charges.

Seelam has asked the court to suppress any evidence discovered as a result of the search on her client’s vehicle and any observations by the police during and after the search of his vehicle.

In her motion to suppress, Seelam said in order to justify the March 19, 2022 detention of Zhang and the subsequent search of his vehicle, the Commonwealth would need to prove that: (1) the parcel the Customs officers were tracking actually contained suspected contraband up until the point when Zhang was detained and searched; (2) that the detention and search occurred within 72 hours after the arrival into the Commonwealth of the suspected contraband located in the parcel; and (3) that the container holding the suspected contraband was subjected to constant surveillance by the Customs Service from the point of entry into the Commonwealth.

“In the instant case,” Seelam said, “Customs officers had already removed all suspected contraband from the parcel before it was transported from the Post Office in Chalan Kanoa to the CCC postal establishment in Garapan, where it was picked up by the defendant, Mr. Zhang. Because the parcel did not contain contraband when it left the U.S. Post Office in Chalan Kanoa, the Customs officers did not have lawful jurisdiction from that point onwards to conduct any searches or seizures. Their detention of Mr. Zhang and their search of his rental vehicle was therefore unlawful.”

Seelam said, “CCC employee Jack Zheng learned that the parcel containing suspected methamphetamine had been picked up from the post office by a Quick Print employee on March 18, 2022 — the day before Customs Officer Franklin Sablan searched the parcel and discovered suspected methamphetamine inside it — and had been returned to the post office that same day.”

Therefore, Seelam said, there was a period of time in which the parcel was not subjected to “constant surveillance” by the Customs Service from its point of entry into the Commonwealth.

“Regardless of when the parcel arrived into the Commonwealth, Customs lost authority to search the parcel once it was picked up from the Post Office in Chalan Kanoa on March 18 by a Quick Print employee, because Customs failed to track the parcel’s whereabouts that day,” Seelam said.

Zhang’s jury trial has been set for Sept. 26, 2022.

In an order, Judge Joseph Camacho directed the parties to file pretrial motions seven calendar days before the pretrial conference hearing, which will be held on Aug. 17, 2022 at 10 a.m.

Judge Camacho previously imposed a $1 million cash bail on the defendant, who is currently in the custody of the Department of Corrections. 

Zhang, through an interpreter, told police  that an “unknown male” offered him $100 to pick up a large parcel of Chinaware at a Garapan postal service and to bring it to the back of a Mobil gas station on Beach Road.

Zhang also stated that the $4,239 in cash found inside his vehicle was his, but not the 19 small clear plastic bags containing methamphetamine that weighed 26.3 grams.

Investigators stated that the cash and meth found in Zhang’s vehicle were “strong” indications that he was a drug distributor and trafficker.

Reporter

Bryan Manabat studied criminal justice at Northern Marianas College. He covers the community, tourism, business, police and court beats.

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