Monthly Archives: September 2012

Ohio: Police Cannot Stop a Motorist That Catches Their Attention

A police officer may not stop and interrogate a driver merely because a vehicle’s out-of-state license plates “caught his attention,” the Ohio Court of Appeals ruled earlier this month. In a split 2-1 decision, the court held the March 19, 2011 traffic stop of Bret Browning was improper because Copley Township Police Officer Ryan Price had no reason to think a crime was about to be committed. At 12:30am that day, Price noticed Browning standing beside a car on a private drive, then drive off.

“I didn’t know if the person was taking a leak,” Officer Price testified. “If they were checking the mail. Getting the trash cans. Stopped because they were lost. Being it was an out-of-state plate, pulled in there to check direction or what, but when he got in the car and drove to the back — I know it’s a dead end, so I figured, well, if they’re legit, maybe they’ll turn around and come back. So I went down the road a little bit, sat in my cruiser, and sure enough the car came back out, got on State Route 21, went southbound.”

As the car hit the highway, Price turned on his overhead lights and performed a traffic stop. Browning appeared intoxicated and refused to undergo sobriety testing, so he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). A trial judge found Browning guilty, but Browning filed an appeal seeking to throw out the initial traffic stop as a Fourth Amendment violation. Under court precedent, a patrolman must cite specific facts that lead him to believe a criminal act is in progress.

Here, Officer Price merely found Browning’s vehicle “suspicious,” but he had no reason to think Browning might be involved in a burglary or any other particular crime.

“Even though Officer Price did not believe that Mr. Browning was engaged in criminal activity, he still initiated the traffic stop,” Judge Carla D. Moore wrote for the appellate majority. “As stated above, an officer’s reliance upon a mere hunch is not sufficient to justify a stop.”

Judge Beth Whitmore disagreed, insisting the totality of the circumstances supported the stop. Officer Price knew there were no out-of-state residents at those homes, and it was late at night.

“Based on his observations, Officer Price reasonably could have concluded that the driver was not there for a legitimate purpose (e.g., visiting a resident of one of the homes) and had pulled his car forward in hopes of evading Officer Price,” Whitmore wrote in her dissent.

With the majority ordering the evidence suppressed, Browning’s conviction will be overturned. A copy of the decision is available in a 60k PDF file at the source link below. Source

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DALLAS COUNTY DEPUTY SUSPENED WITHOUT PAY

For seizing biker’s camera. The Dallas County Sheriff’s office issued a 38-day suspension today to Deputy James Westbrook after footage showed him seizing a camera from a motorcycle rider. The case received a large amount of media coverage in the days following the incident which took place over the Memorial Day weekend.

The majority of outspoken commentators freely acknowledge that they sympathize with the challenges that law enforcement personnel encounter; however, it was not justifiable for Westbrook to seize the camera that belonged to rider Chris Moore.

View slideshow: Dallas County deputy suspended without pay for seizing biker’s camera
The video has been viewed almost 500,000 times on YouTube at this link and Westbrook is on camera issuing this comment to Moore:
“The reason you’re being pulled over is because I’m gonna take your camera and we’re gonna use it as evidence of in the crimes that have been committed by other bikers.”

Legal experts state that Westbrook’s reason does not constitute probable cause to make a traffic stop nor is it illegal to wear a camera on a helmet.
Westbrook ended up arresting Moore and then trying to slam the door of the patrol car on the leg of the biker before taking him to jail. Moore was finally released and issued a ticket for an obstructed license plate.

Moore’s attorney, Hunter Biederman, is prepared to take the case to court even though an obstructed license plate is a small matter, it is more to address the principle of the situation in how Westbrook opted to handle himself.

Of further note is that eight of the 38 days of suspension are due to Westbrook leaving a drunk driver at the jail without booking him before going out on the call relating to motorcyclists riding on I-35.

Westbrook does have the right to appeal his suspension.

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Utah: Traffic Cop May Not Take 20 Minutes to Write a Ticket

A federal judge last week threw out the evidence against a Utah motorist because the highway patrol trooper took twenty minutes to decide whether to write the citation. Trooper Nicholas Berrie was on duty near Kanab, Utah around midnight on October 17, 2011 when another trooper told him to look out for a Dodge Avenger as a “vehicle of interest.” He soon spotted an Avenger being driven by Beatriz Prado at an alleged 67 MPH in a 65 MPH zone.

Prado slowed to 55 MPH, signaled to turn off the highway, but allegedly did not signal befpre turning into a gas station. That was enough to perform a traffic stop. In the parking lot, Berrie spoke to Prado and her passenger, Guadalupe Rojas-Soto. He ordered Prado out of the car for extensive questioning. Berrie became suspicious when he testified that Prado said she was returning from Phoenix and, according to his recollection, “she had gone down there for two days.” This conflicted with the passenger’s description of a four-day stay. The court noted the dashcam video recorded Prado had actually said she was there “Tuesday through Friday, Saturday and left Sunday coming back.”

There was a discrepancy in Prado’s rental car agreement, which was three-days expired and for a different model car. Berrie was also confused by Rojas-Soto’s broken English. Twenty minutes into the stop, Prado asked if she was going to get a ticket.

“There is a very good chance of that,” Trooper Berrie said.

Neither Prado nor Rojas-Soto had any outstanding warrants. When Berrie asked whether there was any marijuana in the car, Prado told him there was nothing and he could look. A drug dog found 100 grams of heroin and 500 grams of methamphetamine. The US District Court for the District of Utah ruled the search was conducted in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

“Trooper Berrie stopped Ms. Prado for her failure to signal, a minor traffic violation,” Judge Tena Campbell wrote. “And yet he testified that twenty minutes into the stop he was still unsure whether he was going to give Ms. Prado a ticket. After determining that neither Ms. Prado nor her passenger had any outstanding warrants, there was no reason for Trooper Berrie to detain Ms. Prado further.”

The judge found nothing overly unusual about the rental car and found that the trooper was primarily interested in a drug search, considering the drug dog had been requested before the stop.

“The court must analyze the scope of his search on the basis of the stop alone, a failure to signal,” Campbell concluded. “Trooper Berrie impermissibly prolonged Ms. Prado’s detention because he did not diligently address the initial purpose of the stop and the detention was not reasonably related in duration to the underlying circumstances. As a result, the search violated Ms. Prado’s Fourth Amendment rights.”

A copy of the decision is available in a 60k PDF file at the source link below. Source

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