3/4/2016West Virginia Supreme Court Shuts Down Random Stops
West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals overturns a traffic stop made without any reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.
Motorists who have done nothing wrong will no longer be pulled over by police in West Virginia. The state's highest court last week overturned the conviction of Matthew Feicht, who was pulled over even though he had committed no traffic violations. Although Feicht's case involves no new question of law, the unanimous decision caused state police officials to stop pulling over drivers randomly so that they could receive various gifts from a police "Santa Stop."
When Monongalia County Sheriff's Deputy Deputy Steven McRobie pulled Feicht over on March 15, 2013, he did not intend to give away any prizes. He was looking for a domestic violence suspect, and at 3am, Feicht happened to be the only person around. The suspect in question had already left the area on foot.
The question before the court was whether the traffic stop itself violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Had Feicht been sober, there would have been no case before the court. Unfortunately for Feicht, he had been drinking that night and was busted for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI).
Prosecutors argued that the initial traffic stop was justified under the "community caretaking" doctrine, but Feicht's attorney countered that there was no evidence of any safety risk to anyone that night. The Supreme Court justices agreed with Feicht.
"The state offered no evidence regarding the domestic dispute, such as whether a weapon had been used in the dispute; whether law enforcement considered the suspect to be armed and dangerous; or whether the suspect posed a serious threat to either the community at large or the petitioner in particular, etc," the justices concluded. "In other words, there is simply no evidence from the suppression hearing that would lead us to conclude that 'citizens [might have been] in peril' or that the petitioner himself might have been 'in need of some form of assistance' so as to justify the traffic stop under the community caretaker doctrine. Consequently, we are compelled to find that the suspicionless traffic stop of the petitioner's vehicle was invalid and that all evidence flowing from the stop should have been suppressed and the charges dismissed."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 60k PDF file at the source link below.