9/17/2014Delaware Court Overturns Hearsay Traffic Stops
One Delaware cop may not pull over a motorist because a second officer told him the motorist failed to use a turn signal.
A police officer may not pull over and search a motorist because he heard from a cop in another car say that the motorist failed to use a turn signal, a New Castle County, Delaware court ruled on Thursday. Judge Diane Clarke Streett denied the state's attempts to rehear the case of Dilip S. Nyala on the grounds that certain types of traffic stops allow one officer to radio his observation of an alleged violation to another.
Under Delaware law, police may team up with an observing officer to issue tickets for speeding, red light running, cell phone use or lack of seat belt use. All other alleged violations must be committed in the police officer's presence.
Police started following Nyala on October 1, 2013, after an informant claimed the man was involved in a drug deal. Detectives tried to obtain a search warrant, but the judge was not available. So they went out looking for a traffic violation that they could use as a pretext to stop and search Nyala's silver 2012 Nissan Altima as it drove on North Scott Street in Wilmington.
Agent Toolan, who was in an unmarked Pontiac G6, claimed the Altima turned right without signaling. Toolan reported this over the radio, and one of the three other police vehicles that were following Nyala conducted a traffic stop. There was no obvious contraband in view in the Altima, but officers hauled Nyala away from the scene in handcuffs. No traffic ticket was issued.
Without being read his rights, Nyala consented to a search of his apartment where 17 grams of heroin, 48 grams of crack and 66 grams of marijuana were found. Nyala's lawyer had this evidence suppressed as the result of an illegal arrest.
"Here, there is no evidence that the officers personally observed defendant commit a traffic code violation in their presence or that there was a speed or red light violation (where the arresting officer is working in conjunction with a reading or observing officer), the officers lacked probable cause to arrest defendant for a Title 21 violation," Judge Streett ruled. "Here, the officers did not have an arrest warrant or a reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity to stop defendant."
The court deemed the consent "tainted" and found the evidence was seized as a result of a Fourth Amendment violation. The court found no new arguments were offered by prosecutors attempting to overturn the decision.
A copy of the September 11 decision is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.