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3/11/2014
Georgia Court Reminds Cops To Remember The Pretext
Court of Appeals in Georgia throws out traffic stop where the reason for the infraction is dealt with within 5 seconds.

Judge Gary Blaylock AndrewsThe Georgia Court of Appeals last week reminded local police officers to act concerned about a traffic violation when conducting a pretextual traffic stop. Woodstock police forgot to do this on April 29, 2012, when they pulled over the truck driven by Cynthia Myers, 32, with her boyfriend Adam Bennett, 25, in the passenger seat. The officer claimed he made the stop because the truck was missing its rear bumper.
Officer: "You've got to get a bumper on it, you know that."
Meyers: "We're still trying to get it fixed."
Officer: "Okay. All right. That's fine."
After this brief exchange, the officer began asking if there were any drugs in the vehicle. Bennett and Meyers said no. Then he asked whether anyone was on probation for drugs, Bennett volunteered that he was. Meyers refused a request to search the truck, so Bennett was ordered to get out and put his hands on top of his head. The officer removed a visible pocketknife from Bennett's pocket and asked if he could search him more thoroughly. Bennett said "no" twice. The officer said he "had to" consent, and a bag of methamphetamine was found.

Bennett challenged the search in court, arguing the officer had no legitimate reason to detain them over the bumper, the alleged reason for the stop. The officer testified that a sunglasses case and the nervous attitude of Bennett and Meyers made him suspicious, creating a new reason to investigate further. The three-judge appellate panel did not buy the officer's explanation.

"Assuming without deciding that the officer could stop the truck and inquire about the missing bumper, nervous behavior and a sunglasses case between the seats are not a sufficient basis for prolonging the stop," Judge Gary Blaylock Andrews wrote in the majority opinion.

Since there was no evidence of drugs when the stop began, and the excuse of the bumper proved implausible, the court decided to grant the motion to suppress.

"Here, the officer told Myers that she needed a bumper on the truck, but did not issue a warning and did not go back to his car to perform a license check; rather, the officer began inquiring about drugs, told both Myers and Bennett to get out of the truck and requested consent to search the truck," Judge Blaylock wrote. "Accordingly, the officer impermissibly prolonged the traffic stop beyond the time necessary to warn Myers to get a bumper. Therefore, the trial court erred in denying Bennett's motion to suppress."

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

Source: PDF File Bennett v. Georgia (Court of Appeals, State of Georgia, 3/3/2014)



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