10/11/2016Federal Appeals Court Makes Looking Fast A Crime
US Court of Appeals upholds traffic stop where a police officer said the car looked like it was traveling at a high rate of speed.
If a police officer sees a vehicle that looks like it might be traveling fast, he can pull it over and issue a ticket for speeding. That was the finding of the Eleventh Circuit US Court of Appeals in a September 30 ruling that upheld the July 19, 2013 traffic stop that landed Isaac Dillard Wilson, 35, in hot water.
It was 10:30pm in Tallahassee when Officer Patrick Coney spotted a Toyota Camry headed westbound on Orange Avenue before turning left onto South Adams Street. Officer Coney at the time was headed southbound, but he turned to initiate a traffic stop.
At first the officer told Wilson he pulled over the Camry because the tag on the rental car did not match. Then after verifying the tag was correct, Officer Coney said he stopped the car because it turned left into the outer lane of the road, instead of the inside lane. For this, Wilson was issued a ticket.
Once pulled over, a drug dog was called in. It alerted on a small amount of marijuana, which made it possible to search the vehicle to uncover a Ruger 9mm pistol and a Norinco SKS rifle. As a felon with a long rap sheet, Wilson was facing ten years in prison for possessing these weapons. This created a difficulty for the prosecution, because there was nothing illegal about Wilson's turn.
"A left turn may be completed in any lane lawfully available, or safe, for the desired direction of travel," the Florida driver's handbook explains.
To avoid having the evidence from the questionable traffic stop suppressed, Officer Coney testified that he saw the Camry heading westbound through an intersection and it looked like it was traveling at a "high rate of speed." He added that he would have issued a speeding ticket, even though he had no radar or other corroborating evidence to back up the claim. This was enough for the trial judge.
"His estimate of Mr. Wilson's speed was not a 'guess' that was 'merely conclusory;' it was instead the reliable observation of a trained, experienced officer," Robert L. Hinkle ruled in upholding the legitimacy of the stop.
A three-judge appellate panel, in an unpublished ruling, found no flaws in this analysis. It held that the speeding allegation was enough to uphold the traffic stop, even though the turning charge was thrown out.
"Since Officer Coney provided plausible testimony, the court's acceptance of it could not be clearly erroneous," the appellate court ruled. "Accordingly, we affirm the district court's determination that the traffic stop was lawful because Officer Coney had probable cause to believe that Wilson was speeding. Further, because Coney had probable cause to believe Wilson had committed a traffic violation, the officer's mistake of law regarding Wilson's turn did not render the stop unlawful."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.