7/11/2018Federal Judge: It Is Not A Crime To Drive Slow Near Cops
Federal judge tosses case after Michigan police officer stared down motorist, causing him to slow 2 MPH below the limit.
A federal judge was not impressed last week with the excuse police gave for a series of traffic stops that eventually led to a drug bust. Under Supreme Court precedent, an individual police officer's subjective intention in pulling someone over is irrelevant as long as an objective justification for the stop can be made. US District Judge Arthur J. Tarnow found no way to justify the actions of officers who actually caused a traffic violation in order to justify a stop.
On January 23, 2018, Michigan State Police received a call from the US Drug Enforcement Agency who had a tip that a black Camry would be transporting drugs on Interstate 94 in Detroit. Federal agents had just observed a RAV4 apparently following a black Camry on I-94, and they wanted it pulled over and searched. Trooper Michael Daniels was told to find a way to do just that.
At first, the RAV4 was traveling at 70 MPH, the speed limit. Trooper Daniels pulled his squad car alongside the RAV4 as they entered the urban stretch of the freeway where the posted minimum speed limit is 55 MPH. He stared at the Toyota driver, Mohamed Belakhdhar, for about a minute. Belakhdhar slowed down to 53 MPH, matching the squad car's pace. The trooper pulled back behind Belakhdhar, activated his overhead lights, and stopped the man for driving 2 MPH under the posted minimum. He then searched the SUV, finding nothing.
Three hours later, the DEA ran Belakhdhar's identification and realized his visa had expired. The agency asked the Border Patrol to stop the RAV4 for an immigration violation. A second search of the SUV turned up four pounds of heroin, but US District Judge Arthur J. Tarnow decided to suppress this evidence because the initial stop was illegal.
"The government maintains that Daniels was justified in pulling over Mr Belakhdhar because he observed him drive 53 MPH on a section of I-94 in which the minimum posted speed limit was 55 MPH," Judge Tarnow wrote. "This argument is unavailing, where, as here, the officer himself created the alleged traffic violation to justify the stop of the vehicle."
The judge also noted that driving 53 MPH in the slow lane was not even a violation. Michigan's vehicle code says drivers must maintain a "careful and prudent" speed that is not greater nor less than what is appropriate for the conditions.
"The presence of a marked state police vehicle, especially one that is moving at a high speed immediately adjacent to a civilian driver, is a condition on which it is entirely reasonable and proper for the driver to rely upon when choosing to operate his vehicle below the minimum speed limit," Judge Tarnow wrote.
The court also noted that driving near the Camry that was suspected of carrying drugs did not constitute a particular suspicion that Belakhdhar had committed a crime.
"Because the seizure of his vehicle violated Mr. Belakhdhar's rights under the Fourth Amendment, the evidence obtained from the second stop of his vehicle in Detroit is inadmissible as fruit of the poisonous tree," Judge Tarnow concluded.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below. The story has been updated.