9/6/2012Utah: Traffic Cop May Not Take 20 Minutes to Write a Ticket
Federal court tosses traffic stop because ticketing decision took more than twenty minutes.
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.