12/8/2011Ohio: Federal Judge Upholds Traffic Stop for Violation Created by Cop
US District Court in Ohio finds no problem in a following too close violation created by visible state police presence on a highway.
When police are on the side of the road conducting a speed trap, traffic often slows significantly as drivers hit the brakes to avoid receiving a ticket. Many motorists will even drop below the speed limit, just to be sure they do not attract attention, causing traffic to bunch up. Police in Ohio can use this tactic to create justification to stop and search a vehicle, a federal judge ruled Monday.
On February 28, Ohio State Trooper Shawn Simms was patrolling Interstate 70 in Preble County. He looked and saw Debra Privratsky driving next to him in the right-hand lane. According to his testimony, he became suspicious when he saw her "arms locked out hands 10:00 to 2:00 sitting rigid in her seat, staring straight ahead." He wanted to conduct a traffic stop, but Privratsky had committed no violation. So Simms sped far past and pulled into the median. As soon as drivers on the freeway noticed the large, marked 2007 Chevy Tahoe police vehicle and immediately slowed down from 67 MPH to 59 MPH, according to dashcam video evidence. Another state trooper's vehicle was also in the immediate area. When traffic bunched up, Simms pulled back onto the freeway and nailed Privratsky for driving "less than two car lengths" behind the car in front of her.
During the traffic stop, Privratsky was nervous and her hand was shaking. There was only one key in the ignition, and the car had an air freshener. Simms testified that these were all indicators of criminal activity. Under questioning, Privratsky's claims about where and why she was driving did not seem to add up, so Simms had a drug dog sniff the car. It found evidence of drugs, but the court focused on whether the initial traffic stop was justified to determine whether a motion to suppress the evidence was in order. It found there was a legitimate traffic violation because it is the driver's responsibility to maintain a proper following distance.
"There is no evidence that Trooper Simms caused the vehicle in front of Privratsky to slow down or intended for his presence on the interstate highway to cause that result," US District Judge Thomas M. Rose wrote in the order issued Monday. "Privratsky has not established how Trooper Simms prevented her from taking the appropriate steps to keep a safe distance from the vehicle she was following, even when it began to slow down."
Judge Rose noted that dashcam video verified the trooper's claim, as well as showing Privratsky driving outside of the lane lines. Though public defender Steven S. Nolder disagreed with the judge's observation that Privratsky may have been following too closely before the car in front of her slowed, Rose overturned Privratsky's motion to suppress. The trial continues.
A copy of the order is available in a 20k PDF file at the source link below.