Ever wonder why every drug arrest begins with a traffic stop? Because all too often the police stop first and provide some reason later! If the drug task force decides to effect an arrest, they call the ISP or locals and have them do a traffic stop. Then, they give a "reason" for the stop – a reason that is simply a pretext. They didn’t stop that car because it was "weaving," they stopped it because a drug task force officer wanted it stopped.
Occasionally the same is true of those "after 2:00 am" stops of cars leaving the downtown corridor. Bars, plus early morning hours do not necessarily add up to probable cause.
So it was commendable that 4th District Magistrate Judge Theresa Gardunia ruled this week that the stop of a car driven by John Long was not reasonable, and therefore not supported by the law that the ISP officer had sworn to uphold. In case you think Judge Gardunia was out there on the edge in her ruling, she based her decision on an Idaho Court of Appeals decision seven years ago that held the placement of the temporary license was not a reason for a stop unless it was obvious from the officer’s view that there was an alteration or other problem with the license.
Credit defense lawyer Charles Crafts for filing the motion to suppress evidence illegally obtained by the police based on the stop. Read the Statesman story here. The basics: early morning hours, ISP Officer Janet Murakami pulls over John Long to "check" the temporary license displayed in his window.
Now in the officer’s defense – she claims she saw Long stumble and trip as he approached his car after leaving a Boise bar. She stopped the car, then had Long perform field sobriety tests (which she claims he failed) and then arrested him for DUI. The problem here is that the Judge found the reason for the stop given by the officer (uncertain if temporary license in window was real) was a pretext for the stop. The officer said she could not tell if the temporary license was valid, so she had to stop the car. An officer video apparently convinced Judge Gardunia that the stop was not based on the officer’s need to check the validity of the license.
How about just stopping the guy as he sat in his car – "in physical control" prior to letting him drive? The officer might have had a better argument for approaching the car based on observing the defendant trip or stumble, to check on Mr. Long’s condition, as an investigative stop before he started driving. That seems to have been the real reason for the stop.
I don’t want people to drive drunk. I am worried about my own safety and that of my family and friends. Drunk drivers kill. But look – if you believe you need to stop someone to keep the public safe, do it as the law permits.
There are lots of great law enforcement officers in Idaho, and for the most part they do "protect and serve."
But a couple weeks ago I noticed that the motto had been changed a bit – now it says "protect, serve, lead."
Lead! Please! Don’t pretend you see a violation just so you can see if the person driving that car is over the limit or violating some other law.
Lead! Show us that you will enforce the law, not get around it by making something up. We expect professional law enforcement.
Thankfully, there are judges who still call a strike a strike.