US Supreme Court restricts length of traffic stops

judgeWhen stopped by police it is seldom a good idea to agree to a search of your car, your purse, yourself, your house, or anything else. Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme court in Rodriguez v. United States underlines this truth:

FACTS:

A cop pulled over the defendant Rodriguez for a minor traffic violation. He checked Rodriguez’ license and registration, then issued Rodriguez a warning ticket. After concluding the reason for the stop, he asked Rodriguez for permission to walk his drug-sniffing dog around the car. Rodriguez refused, so the cop made him wait 7-8 minutes until a backup officer arrived. A drug dog then sniffed the car and drugs were found. Rodriguez was convicted.

HELD:

The Supreme Court threw out the conviction, noting that an officer’s job during traffic stops typically includes only those issues involved in the safe operation of a motor vehicle: checking for a valid operator’s license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile’s registration and proof of insurance. The court held a dog sniff is not part of an officer’s “traffic mission.”

Unless the officer has a reasonable and fact-based suspicion that further criminal activity is afoot, he may not prolong the stop beyond that time necessary to complete the traffic investigation. In Rodriguez’ case, the legal traffic stop ended the moment Rodriguez was handed his warning ticket.

The court also made it clear that it did not matter whether the dog sniff occurred in the middle of the stop or at the end. A valid stop ends and the illegal detention begins either:

  1. as soon as the investigation concludes; or
  2. as soon as it ought to have been concluded, which ever comes first.

The cop cannot extend the length of the detention–whether during or after the stop–unless he has additional evidence of a crime.  Even if the delay is very brief, any continued detention is considered illegal.

Missouri’s SECOND AMENDMENT PRESERVATION ACT

handgunSenate bill 613, known as the SECOND AMENDMENT PRESERVATION ACT is moving forward in the Missouri legislature. The bill is similar to one that was almost passed last year over the governor’s veto.

Key provisions are:

Declares invalid all federal laws or orders that infringe on the federal and state right to keep and bear arms. Such infringments would include confiscation, taxing, registering, tracking, selling and trading of firearms, ammunition or accessories.

 – No law enforcement officer or agency may enforce such infringing federal laws and they may be sued by Missouri citizens whose rights are thereby violated. Attorney’s fees and costs are paid by the loser of such lawsuit. The defendant cannot use governmental immunity as a defense. The violator may be arrested and charged with a Class A misdemeanor. This  is effective on August 28, 2017, or upon the passage of any federal law that curtails the right to keep and bear arms or upon the passage of similar laws in at least four other states.

The bill permits open-carrying of a firearm by persons holding a concealed carry permit in all political subdivisions in the state. It also forbids the disarming or restraint of any persons carrying a handgun except where there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. No political subdivision may outlaw the otherwise legal use of a firearm in the defense of persons or property.

Provides for the training and designation of school teachers or administrators as armed “school protection officers.”

– There is also a provision that no health care professional may be required by law to inquire if patients own firearms, or to document or notify authorities of such ownership, unless by court order. [Bill modified 01/27/2014:  no longer prohibits doctors from documenting ownership status, but it does require written permission to disclose that information]

Lowers the age to obtain a concealed carry permit from 21 to 19.

Makes possession of a firearm a felony for any person illegally present in the state.

* * *

Passage of this (or a similar) bill seems likely and if the governor signs (or his veto is overridden), this will create a confrontation with federal law enforcement agents who heavily count on the cooperation of local law enforcement.

The threat of state prosecution may not thwart federal agents, but it will give pause to any Missouri law enforcement agency or officer thinking about assisting federal efforts to enforce federal firearms laws. For an overview of Missouri Weapons offenses, see Chapter 571 of the Missouri Revised Statutes.

New Missouri law would outlaw droning without a warrant

Three cheers for Rep. Casey Guernsey  and HB 46, pre-filed on December 5, 2012. Guernsey’s proposed law would prohibit anyone–including law enforcement–from using “a drone or other unmanned aircraft to gather evidence or other information pertaining to criminal conduct or conduct in violation of a statute or regulation”

There are three exceptions:

  • If the property or business owner consents
  • If a court issues a search warrant permitting the use; or
  • If a law enforcement agency possesses reasonable suspicion that  swift action is necessary to prevent imminent danger to life.

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Even with these exceptions, the proposed law would go a long way toward strangling, in its crib, the nascent danger of routine aerial surveillance in Missouri.

Now if there is some way to stop the federal government . . .

 

New Cole County Jail Pictures: the Prisoner’s Tour

If you missed the grand-opening tours of the new 28 million dollar Cole County, Missouri jail, here’s a second chance. My tour group was mostly retired ladies from a local nursing home and we were guided by the most excellent tour host, Sheriff Greg White. The one thing the pictures do not really convey, is HOW BIG IT IS. Like the biblical city of Jericho, I suspect it would take all day to walk around it seven times. It is a monster building. I only include a portion of the non-public areas to hold down the number of pictures.

Below is the tour from the perspective of a new prisoner entering the jail under escort. The prisoner arrives here, a huge drive-in space called a “sally port.” The police drive all the way inside the jail and the door is closed (so as to avoid any temptation for the prisoner to escape). From here, the prisoner sallies forth to the booking area.

Sally Port


There is one other way to get to the booking area. If a person is asked to come to the Sheriff’s office to answer questions regarding a crime, they will be taken to this interrogation room. If they do what most suspects do, they will answer the questions. Some of the foolish suspects will lie. The other foolish suspects will tell the truth because they want the officer to like them. After confessing, they will be arrested. From there, it’s on to booking.

Interrogation room

 

This is the booking area where the prisoner is photographed, fingerprinted & eyeball scanned. The far walls have holding cells (one is in the next picture).

Booking

Holding

Prisoners stay in these holding cells for no more than 24 hours. After that, they will have either bonded out or are moved into the general jail population.


Time out

This little room is the holding cell for misbehaving inmates. The Sheriff calls it: “time out.” It’s 4 walls and a drain. (The drain actually flushes like a toilet –I know, the the drain slits are a bit narrow. No, I didn’t ask.). And no furniture; just a bare concrete floor.

They turn out the lights and lock the door. As you may imagine, its very peaceful.

If the prisoner is completely out of control, they have a “restraint” chair to strap him/her into before they turn out the lights.

 

There is even a cell for prisoners in wheelchairs. This handicapped cell is very roomy

Handicapped

 

On his or her way to the general jail population, the prisoner gets a new costume. Here are some of the men’s florescent orange uniforms. Woman prisoners get beautiful lime green outfits.

Mens uniforms

Flipflops

Prisoners will also be gellin’ in these cool “gummy” sandals. Ladies also receive an official issue Cole County bra.

 

Before we get to the general population cell block, I wanted to show the part of the new jail that I was really looking forward to. Below is the “work release” area of the jail. This area houses non-violent prisoners who are employed. They leave the jail each day, go to their jobs, and then return to jail at the end of the workday. The point of work release is to punish offenders without destroying their jobs and families. The inmates PAY for their room & board and the taxpayers benefit. It’s a great idea and is used all over Missouri. The most disappointing thing I learned in my tour was that it will be ten years before the “work release” cell block is ready. I hope the county commission makes completing this area a priority.

Work Release

 

This is the control center for the main cell block. It sits in the center and is surrounded by pie-shaped cell blocks.

Control room

These gentlemen can see every cell from inside the “bubble.”

 

This is one of the pie-shaped cell blocks. There are 12 two-person cells in each cell block. Most prisoners will spend the day out of their cells at the table. Each has his own little seat. Note the video visitation box on the far right of the photo. More on that later.

Cell Block

Each cell measures 6.5 by 12 feet and has a shower and a toilet.


Remember that video visitation box on the wall in the cell block? Friends and family can visit prisoners by coming to the video visitation room where there are a slew of these video boxes. Visitors are warned not to expose any private body parts for the camera, for the Sheriff assures me that they will not be allowed to do that twice (and may be charged with a crime).

There is a TV on the wall in each cell block. Note that prisoners cannot see out the windows to the control center.

When they get tired of watching TV, prisoners are entitled to 1 hour per day of “outdoor” recreation. This next room is the “outdoor” rec room. Also pie shaped, it is a bare room with no exercise equipment. The sliding door in the picture below raises to reveal what looks like a basement window well. Out of sight–at the top–is a skylight, and when opened, actual daylight reaches the room, hence the name “outdoor” recreation.

* * *

That’s it. The new jail. It’s big, clean and new. And I still wouldn’t want to stay there. So remember the two rules:

  1. If you are a suspect in a criminal case, do not answer any questions about it until you have talked to a criminal lawyer. You have the right to remain silent. Don’t lie. Just remain silent.
  2. Never consent to a search of yourself, your car, your home or your stuff. Never.

 

 

Come back with a warrant

Missouri 2010 racial profiling stats “disturbing”

Jefferson City criminal lawyerThis week Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster released Missouri’s 2010 racial profiling statistics. The stats track the race of drivers stopped by law enforcement. They record the numbers of traffic stops, searches, search results and arrests. The results were the similar to those of years past.

Relative to the population of the various groups, Hispanics are stopped less often than whites. Asians are stopped only half as often as whites. Native Americans might as well be invisible and are stopped only 1/7th as often as whites. The report uses a “disparity index” to report how much a racial group is under/over represented as a percentage of that group’s population.

Koster reported, “the disparity index for African-American drivers continues to be of significant concern. The disparity index for African-American drivers decreased slightly from 1.62 in 2009 to 1.61 in 2010.” He cites as a “disturbing trend” that African-American drivers  were stopped 27 percent more often than their population would suggest in 2000 and 61 percent more often in 2010.

Koster does not say exactly why he is “disturbed,” but has noted that the numbers are an indicator that further inquiry is appropriate.

It seems there could be several explanations for stopping members of the  over-represented group:

  1. the individuals are such bad drivers that they draw police attention (not likely?);
  2. the individuals drive unregistered or defective vehicles that draw police attention (possible, as a function of poverty perhaps?); and
  3. the individuals are stopped for belonging to the over-represented group (sometimes known as “driving while black.”)

Reason number three would seem to be the most “disturbing” answer.

Other interesting stats reveal the number of searches done on each group and then compares the search numbers to the success rate of those same searches (“success” meaning that the police find something illegal”). Blacks and Hispanics are about twice as likely to be searched than are whites. They are also twice as likely to be arrested during a traffic stop. Police are far less likely find to find contraband on Blacks and Hispanics than on whites. (White: 24.5%, African-Americans: 17.5%, Hispanics:14.4%).

When mulling over the numbers, keep in mind that when Blacks and Hispanics are arrested (twice as often as whites), they are automatically searched without police needing any reason to think they will find anything. Whites–being arrested less frequently–may get “successfully” searched more frequently, because police are only searching them when they have reason to think they will find contraband. Of course, it could also be that–as a group–whites are less likely to tell police “no” whenever a search is requested. Obviously, these would be people who don’t read this blog.

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Update: I was thinking about the Native Americans being stopped only 1/7th as frequently as whites. When you consider how few even live in Missouri, you have to believe that many of those traffic stops were of non-resident Indians just passing through. That means the resident Indians are probably even less likely to get stopped than the numbers suggest. Since the Attorney General believes that “further inquiry” is needed, let me suggest that he should ask the Indians what their secret is.


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Good cop/Bad cop: Can he take a joke?

Jefferson City Criminal LawyerPolice officers have a tough job. And while they aren’t in the top ten most dangerous jobs, most road officers get into tense situations and get into physical altercations resulting in scrapes and bruises from time to time. They are constantly dealing with people who don’t appreciate the service they provide.

Often those ungrateful people are ungrateful because they are being manacled and hauled off to a jail cell. If anyone other than a police officer was doing what is essentially kidnapping, he would be facing ten years to life in prison.

Naturally, when you are authorized to commit (what would otherwise be) a serious felony against others, you should not be surprised when arrested persons sometimes get disrespectful, even mouthy.

When I was a prosecutor, I figured cops shouldn’t have to put up with being physically assaulted, but if they couldn’t handle catcalls and insults, then they had no business in that line of work. You can almost separate the good cops from the bad by seeing which ones ignore the verbal abuse and which ones get their buttons pushed by it.

Here is an example of a a badge heavy cop who ought to have stayed in his car. At least it wasn’t in MIssouri:


Criminal barbering – scourge or public service?

Missouri Criminal Defense AttorneyNews this week of raids in Florida in an effort to stamp out illegal, criminal haircuts in that state. Here is the story of the round-up and arrest:

This crackdown called to mind my own childhood, where every month, my brothers and I were taken to the private home of a middle-aged lady named Mrs. McAfoos. To see her on the street, you would never imagine that she was a career criminal, a black market barber. You see, she was not licensed, but she was fast and cheap.

On Saturday, the mothers in our neighborhood would pack up their sons to drive over to Mrs. McAfoos’ house. Each of us was frequently warned: “Remember never to tell anyone that she cuts your hair. She can get into trouble.” We never told; and every Saturday Mrs. McAfoos would cut 10 heads an hour, all day long, at fifty cents a head. Great money. No overhead. I doubt that any father in my neighborhood was earning $5/hour in 1964.

Barbering without a license has long been a crime. Today it can get you 15 days in jail. I suspect such criminals still are among us here in Missouri. I also suspect that their customers are happy for the service. Licensed barbers–like all professionals whose monopoly business is protected by the state–may feel differently about the services of black market barbers.

The state doesn’t like them much either. Here is a list of fees that black market barbers do not pay: BARBER FEES

Most people do not appreciate how many occupations are criminal activities unless the practitioner has the time and money to meet state licensing requirements. Click here for the LIST OF OCCUPATIONS.

Naturally, people are concerned about the public welfare and safety. But the costs of such government regulation is seldom a concern: the cost to people who have the skills, but not the education or the money required; and the cost to people who want good, inexpensive services. How can we explain higher rates of electrocution in places with more regulation of electricians? Easily, once we consider that fewer people can afford the higher cost and decide to do-it-themselves.

Should it really be a crime to give a haircut unless your papers are in order? Must we trust the government to say who is a qualified Interior Designer? Does a license guarantee the quality of your Private Investigator.

Regulations can be also be dangerous to a public who thinks that just because a tattoo artist (or doctor or lawyer, for that matter) is licensed by the government, they will do a good job. This a ridiculous assumption. You can get more reliable quality assurance by reading product reviews at Amazon.com.

Anyway. Thanks Mrs. McAfoos for good, fast, cheap haircuts. You were a criminal and I was an accomplice, but the statute of limitations has probably run out by now.


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St Louis video vigilante still catching cops behaving badly

Jefferson City Criminal AttorneyIn a 2007 post, I reported the story of a 20 year old kid who was approached and bullied by a St Louis area police officer who mistakenly thought his gun and badge gave him an edge over the young driver. The driver, Brett Darrow, turned out to carrying even more powerful tools: video recording equipment. Many believed he set the cop up. I do too, but it was an honest sting that would never come off unless a bully cop decided to target Mr. Darrow.

Brett had done nothing wrong. He was polite, but not intimidated. The cop’s threats were arrogant and buffoonish, obviously meant to school Brett as to who was the master and who was the servant, but in the end the life lesson belonged mostly to the officer. Thanks to the miracle of electronics  there were the usual tens of thousands of witnesses on YouTube.

Here’s my original post and a link to the story as picked up by CNN:

20 year old to Police: I’m watching you

Almost three years have passed and recently Brett was stopped at a DWI checkpoint. Disappointingly, he did not have his video up and running, but he did manage to audio record until the St Louis County police took his phone away and stopped the recording.  Here is the audio:

Audio of Darrow car stop and phone confiscation

Missouri Cops Harass Video Vigilante A Third Time

It is astonishing how stupid it is to forcibly stop a person recording an encounter with police if they are not interfering. Think about it. The only weapon a police officer has in a courtroom is the truth. The recording is the truth.

The stories that defendants tell about police misconduct are usually dismissed as self-serving lies (unless, of course, it turns out to be on video).  Clearly, a police officer is inviting a jury to dis-believe him once they see how afraid he is of a recording. A good cop is not afraid, but whether good or bad, he might as well assume that he is going to get recorded on video/audio.

Practical note: Mr Darrow is a very savvy fellow in dealing with police. His recordings are very instructive: He is polite, but never gives out information that is nobody else’s business. He says: “I don’t wish to discuss my personal life with you, Officer” and “I don’t want to answer any more questions. Am I free to go?” You cannot imagine Brett Darrow agreeing to a vehicle search. This guy could be giving classes.


Could Red Light cameras be killing us — to make money?

Last month we read the headline:  Missouri Supreme Court Strikes down Red Light cameras.” Depending on the reporter, some media outlets got the story right and some did not.

In fact, red light cameras had little to do with the Supreme Court’s opinion at all. It was the City of Springfield’s enforcement scheme that was condemned by the court. The short version is that Springfield’s red light defendants could not get a real trial, nor a proper appeal. “Nice try, Springfield” the court seemed to say, “but you can’t do that.”  Other cities with red-light cameras–such as Columbia, Missouri–may well have judicial schemes that pass muster.

More interestingly, however, the court recounted the facts of the case. The defendant was Adolph Belt, a 30-year veteran of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Experienced at traffic control, Belt investigated the traffic light cycle at the intersection where he was photographed running a red light. The yellow light lasted about 3.5 seconds (too short a time for most traffic light situations).

It turns out that the city of Springfield prepared for the installation of its red light camera system by slashing the yellow warning time by one second at 105 intersection signals across the city.  A 2005 Texas Transportation Institute study had shown that a “one-second reduction in yellow time resulted in a 100% increase in the number of violations.” See City Lowers Yellow Light Time Before Installing Cameras. Springfield has been noted as one of “6 Cities That Were Caught Shortening Yellow Light Times For Profit

It doesn’t take a genius to know that if shaving a second off the yellow light doubles the number of “violations” (meaning the number of red lights being run through), then that lost second is CAUSING accidents.

It is beyond argument that when a yellow light is shortened beyond a certain point, it can be impossible to stop safely before running the red light. Not only do cities know this when they shorten their yellow lights, THEY INTEND IT.

To consciously create such a risk is reckless conduct and if a person were killed in this “shortened yellow” scenario, the city and its leaders would be guilty of Involuntary Manslaughter under section 565.024, RSMo.

Perhaps this situation will give a boost to Senator Jim Lembke’s MIssouri Senate Bill 637 which will forbid the use of red light cameras and thereby remove the incentive for this lethal government scam.


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