Sunday, July 8, 2018

No probable cause from an officer-induced traffic violation

The District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan reminds us this last week that an officer cannot himself create the alleged traffic violation to justify a traffic stop.  

In United States v. Belakhdhar, 2018 WL 3239625, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110514 (E.D. Mich. July 3, 2018), the defendant challenged a traffic stop as pretextual for a criminal investigation where law enforcement allegedly stopped him for driving 2 mph below the speed limit. 

The court agreed with Mr. Belakhdhar that the officer lacked probable cause to conduct the traffic stop because, for one, the officer himself caused Mr. Belakhdhar to slow down when he pulled out behind and then drove next to Mr. Belakhdhar, eerily "peering into his vehicle." (Not to mention driving 2 mph below the speed limit did not actually violate any law.)

The government's argument in the alternative--that law enforcement had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity justifying the stop--fell just as flat. Mere propinquinity (or in this case, "tandem driving"), "with a vehicle suspected of drug activity, alone, is an insufficient basis for reasonable suspicion." The fact that Mr. Belakhdhar's car had a temporary Illinois plate didn't change the equation since, as the court noted, "vehicles with temporary Illinois plates travel on I-94 every day." 

Accordingly, motion to suppress granted.

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