Wednesday, April 23, 2014
US Supreme Court Backs Anonymous Tip Traffic Stops
A quick call to 911 can lead to any car on the freeway being pulled over and searched. Thanks to a ruling handed down Tuesday by the US Supreme Court, police officers no longer need to corroborate an anonymous claim that someone is reckless or drunk behind the wheel before hitting the emergency lights and conducting a traffic stop. This is what happened on August 23, 2008, when an anonymous tipster claimed a silver Ford F150 pickup had run her off the road on Highway 1 in Mendocino County. That was enough for California Highway Patrol Officer Thaddeus Williams to pull over the pickup truck driver, Lorenzo Prado Navarette, who was later charged with marijuana possession. The only thing known about the 911 caller in the case was that the voice sounded like a woman's. Dispatchers had no way to verify that the person was even calling from the area. The question before the high court was whether tips of this nature are reliable enough for law enforcement agents to take action, or do they need first to see some evidence of wrong-doing on their own. Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas found the tip reliable because the caller proved to be correct about the truck's license plate and its approximate location when police caught up to it about 18 minutes after the call. The claim of recklessness proved sufficient to establish the likelihood that the driver was drunk (though in this case, Navarette was sober). "Unconfirmed reports of driving without a seatbelt or slightly over the speed limit, for example, are so tenuously connected to drunk driving that a stop on those grounds alone would be constitutionally suspect," Justice Thomas wrote. "But a reliable tip alleging the dangerous behaviors discussed above generally would justify a traffic stop on suspicion of drunk driving." Although the arresting officer in this case saw no indication of impaired driving after following the truck for five minutes, the majority found that this did not dispel the suspicion that the driver was intoxicated. "It is hardly surprising that the appearance of a marked police car would inspire more careful driving for a time," Justice Thomas wrote. "Of course, an officer who already has such a reasonable suspicion need not surveil a vehicle at length in order to personally observe suspicious driving." In an unusual split, Justice Antonin Scalia joined the court's liberal wing -- Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan -- in warning of the ruling's negative consequences. "So long as the caller identifies where the car is, anonymous claims of a single instance of possibly careless or reckless driving, called in to 911, will support a traffic stop," Justice Scalia wrote. "This is not my concept, and I am sure would not be the Framers', of a people secure from unreasonable searches and seizures." The dissenters pointed out that the tipster was annoyed at being run off the road, but that does not necessarily mean that the truck driver was drunk. "Who really knows what (if anything) happened?" Justice Scalia asked. "The truck might have swerved to avoid an animal, a pothole, or a jaywalking pedestrian… Or, indeed, he might have intentionally forced the tipster off the road because of some personal animus, or hostility to her 'Make Love, Not War' bumper sticker." The police officer could not have stopped the truck for the discrete act of running the woman off the road because he did not witness what happened. He could only have conducted a stop based on an ongoing violation, such as drunk driving. After following the truck for five minutes, the officers saw no signs of recklessness or drunkenness. "After today's opinion all of us on the road, and not just drug dealers, are at risk of having our freedom of movement curtailed on suspicion of drunkenness, based upon a phone tip, true or false, of a single instance of careless driving." A copy of the decision is available in a 150k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Navarette v. California (US Supreme Court, 4/22/2014)
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
DC To Raise $1 Billion From Virginia And Maryland Motorists
Washington, DC has long sought to impose a commuter tax, a levy designed to raise money from residents of neighboring Virginia and Maryland who take the train or drive in to the District of Columbia to work. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled in 2005 that the city could not impose such a tax without congressional approval, something it was not going to receive. Now city leaders have found a way to harness the latest transportation fad to achieve the same result as the tax. Both Maryland and Virginia have expanded the use of tolling in the past few years. Virginia's latest project takes existing lanes on Interstate 95 and imposes tolls on the high occupancy vehicle lanes without adding any physical lane capacity. The DC government proposes to do the same by tolling Interstates 295, 395 and 695, which are heavily used commuter routes. The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board discussed the project at a meeting last week. "The proposed managed lanes project brings the District in line with its neighboring states," the DC Department of Transportation's feasibility report states. "The proposed network provides access into and through the District for resident of the District, Virginia and Maryland." The project would require no new construction beyond the installation of tolling gantries. Because of the low cost to get up and running, the first phase of the project would be run by the District to get tolls collected as early as possible on I-395. Later stages would likely follow the example used in Virginia where the roads were turned over to a foreign corporation. According to the District, the annual operation and maintenance costs range from $262,899 for the I-395 toll lane to $544,981 for I-295. Citing Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments traffic projections, the proposal expects total capital costs of $14.5 million would be paid off by the first full year's take of $20.5 million in tolls. By 2050, the annual revenue balloons to $97.4 million and the project will have raised more than $1.2 billion in profit. "The revenue will be used to offset the capital costs incurred for the project as well as for the maintenance and operations of the facility," the proposal explains. "A secondary benefit of this for DDOT and the residents of the District is that federal obligations that would normally be allocated for improvement projects on the corridor would not be required and DDOT gains flexibility on funding other projects within its program." DC says the Federal Highway Administration has already promised approval for the high occupancy toll lanes as part of its Value Pricing Pilot program and no further approval is needed beyond environmental studies. The city hopes construction for the E-ZPass toll readers will begin in April 2015.
Monday, April 21, 2014
Nevada: Cars Stopped For a Pebble In the Windshield
Nevada's Supreme Court earlier this month decided that motorists can be stopped and searched if a tiny rock scratches a vehicle's windshield. The court took up a case where a police officer stopped a motorist but was wrong about the statute governing windshields. The high court decided to find a way to make the initial stop stick. The case revolved around whether Deputy Wendy Jason was right to pull over Jarvis Deer Cantsee when she saw he had a crack across his windshield in what she thought was a violation of a statute banning driving "with any sign poster or other nontransparent material upon the front windshield." A lower court ruled that the traffic stop was inappropriate because the deputy got the law wrong, but the state appealed all the way to the high court. A divided majority sided with the prosecution. "We conclude that a police officer's citation to an incorrect statute is not a mistake of law that invalidates an investigatory traffic stop under the Fourth Amendment if another statute nonetheless prohibits the suspected conduct," Justice James W. Hardesty wrote for the court. "Therefore, we reverse the district court's order." Justice Michael A. Cherry, in the minority, warned of the consequence of his colleagues' finding. "Of course, this argument is troubling; its adoption would make any citizen who was the victim of a pebble lodged in a windshield, a frequent occurrence on those long drives across our vast state, susceptible to a traffic stop," the dissenting opinion explained. In the course of the lower court battle, state prosecutors decided that Cantsee must have violated a different statute, NRS 484B.163, which states: "A vehicle must not be operated upon any highway unless the driver's vision through any required glass equipment is normal." Washoe County Judge David A. Hardy found the switch of statute in the middle of the case unfairly surprised the defense, and he ordered the evidence obtained from the stop suppressed. This is the first time the issue has come before the state Supreme Court. "There is a difference between a mistake of law and a mistake as to which law applies," Justice Hardesty wrote for the majority. "Deputy Jason initiated the traffic stop because of the cracked windshield. She cited Cantsee for violating NRS 484D.435, believing that it was the applicable statute. She was mistaken. Although this statute does not prohibit Cantsee's conduct, a crack that obstructs the driver's vision through the windshield could be an infraction under NRS 484B.163. We conclude that this statute provides a lawful ground to justify the stop because the crack in the windshield might have obstructed Cantsee's view." Justice Cherry, in his dissent, points out that the trial judge had already rejected the possibility that there was a violation of the 484B.163 statute. The majority insisted on sending the case back to the lower court for adjudication on this question. A copy of the ruling is available in a PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Nevada v. Cantsee (Nevada Supreme Court, 4/3/2014)
Sunday, April 20, 2014
France, Italy: Speed Cameras Burned and Painted
Vigilantes left a speed camera in Venice, Italy a charred and useless lump on the ground Thursday at around 11pm. According to La Nuova di Venezia, the fire department was called to the scene on the Via Cavalleggieri in Mogliano as the powerful blaze lit up the night sky. The camera's concrete base had been ripped out of the ground before the camera housing was torched. In Ouges, France, vigilantes covered a speed camera lens with gray paint last week Saturday. Le Bien Public reported that attack disabled the ticketing device on the D968.
Friday, April 18, 2014
New Mexico Appeals Court Upholds Arbitrary Speed Limits
The state of New Mexico does not need to justify its speed limits. The state Court of Appeals came to this conclusion earlier this month in upholding the conviction of Raul Tarin, a motorist who decided to mount a legal battle against his ticket for allegedly driving 71 MPH in a 45 MPH zone. Representing himself in court, Tarin argued that the state had to establish the speed limit's legitimacy before the ticket could be considered valid. It was the first time anyone had brought such an argument to the appellate level in the state. Under New Mexico law, the default speed limit is 75 MPH, with particular statutory limits set in residential neighborhoods, school zones and business districts. The posting of a lower speed limit requires "an engineering survey and traffic investigation, a detailed report of which is filed with the traffic safety bureau of the state highway and transportation department." Tarin insisted on seeing the study that set the 45 MPH speed limit that got him into trouble, arguing the report is an essential element of justifying a speeding charge. The three-judge panel was not sympathetic to this line of reasoning. "Defendant's arguments presuppose that the methods for establishing the posted speed limit are a required element to establish a charge of speeding, and it is the state’s burden to prove the validity of the methods for establishing the posted speed limit," Judge Timothy L. Garcia wrote for the panel. "Defendant's arguments regarding the statutory interpretation of Section 66-7-301 appear to be matters of first impression before this court." The appellate panel pointed out that state law only requires a sign be posted, whether the sign is valid or not. "Nothing in Section 66-7-301 requires the state to provide any evidence addressing how a posted speed limit was established or adopted. The statutory scheme strongly indicates that the legislature did not intend that evidence of the underlying engineering survey and traffic investigation be a required element in nearly every case involving a speed limit violation below seventy-five miles per hour." The panel found it would be "needless, inefficient and unreasonable" to require the state to produce a witness and a copy of an engineering survey for every speeding ticket case. The court was even less sympathetic to Tarin's argument that a police officer must have direct knowledge of the speed limit. The officer was familiar with the area and had seen the three 45 MPH speed limit signs posted in the vicinity, but Tarin argued this constituted hearsay because the officer did not know whether the limit was valid. "We disagree," Judge Garcia wrote. "To the extent that defendant is also arguing that the hearsay rule would not allow the officer to rely on the speed limit signs that stated that the speed limit was forty-five miles per hour, defendant failed to fully develop this argument or establish how it was preserved. Because this court does not review unclear or undeveloped arguments, we will not address this hearsay argument further. For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that there were no hearsay violations arising from the citing officer’s testimony that was based upon his personal observations and personal knowledge of the evidence." That was enough for the judges to uphold Tarin's speeding ticket. A copy of the ruling is available in a 40k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: New Mexico v. Tarin (Court of Appeals, State of New Mexico, 4/1/2014)