6/29/2018Indiana Court: Cops May Not Pull Someone Over For Appearing To Speed
The vague assertion that a car appears to be speeding is not enough, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled last week.
Indiana prosecutors were desperate to set the precedent that a cop's word that a car appeared to be speeding was good enough to conduct and sustain a traffic stop. State attorney general Curtis T. Hill Jr advanced the position using the case of Zachariah Marshall, only to see the attempt backfire last week as the state Court of Appeals rejected the reasoning offered by the state's top law enforcement official.
Marshall was driving on State Road 8 in Hebron when Sean Dolan, a reserve police officer, asserted he was "very certain, a hundred percent" that the man had been speeding. Reserve officers need only complete forty hours of training to obtain a badge and the ability to make arrests, carry firearms and conduct traffic stops. Here, Dolan was armed with a radar gun, but he could not remember what the reading on it was, nor could he recall the speed limit on that road. However, once the traffic stop had begun, the reserve officer noticed that Marshall appeared to be tipsy, so he placed the man under arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol. He was not ticketed for speeding.
"Marshall's Bureau of Motor Vehicles check came back that he had no priors to speeding and also that Mr. Marshall was also under the investigation for an OWI, therefore, I knew that he was going to have plenty of money problems and legal problems ahead of him that were going to be costly and I decided to cut him a break on the citation for speeding," Dolan testified.
Even though Dolan was vague about the details surrounding the stop, the trial judge concluded that his word was all that mattered.
"An officer's testimony of speeding, without radar, pacing or some number, when based upon his or her expertise and ability to draw conclusions about the excessive speed of the vehicle, in general terms, is sufficient to establish a reasonable suspicion of a traffic infraction justifying a stop," Porter Superior Court Judge David L. Chidester ruled.
Not so, said the three-judge Court of Appeals panel in rejecting the proposed standard for a traffic stop.
"Reserve Officer Dolan testified he did not pace Marshall's vehicle, did not write down the speed at which he observed Marshall traveling prior to the traffic stop, and did not observe Marshall commit additional traffic infractions," Judge Melissa S. May wrote for the appellate court. "Because Reserve Officer Dolan could not testify regarding the speed of Marshall's vehicle in more specific terms, we hold he did not have specific articulable facts to support his initiation of a traffic stop, and therefore the traffic stop violated Marshall's Fourth Amendment rights."
The appellate court suppressed traffic stop that led to Marhsall's arrest leaving no basis for his conviction.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.