Did the Texas buyer plate give the officer proper reasonable suspicion to make the traffic stop?
So this officer sees a vehicle at almost midnight in an area that’s kind of known for high crime and so forth, and sees a vehicle bearing a Texas buyer’s plate.
Okay, so here is the reason why the officer made the stop. The officer drove past the vehicle and observed that the vehicle had all its lights off in a parking lot and was parked in a no parking zone near a fire lane. The officers observed that the vehicle had a paper plate on the rear of the vehicle that said Texas buyer.
Due to the officer’s training and experience, he or she knew that stolen vehicles are commonly left in the apartment complex in this general area. Additionally, the officer knew that stolen vehicles in Las Vegas commonly have Texas buyer plates attached to them, because those plates are very easy to get online. Additionally, the officer knew that drivers of stolen vehicles often turn off their lights when not on a public road to avoid detection by police. Also, it was dark outside and around midnight, which is the usual time that stolen vehicles are driven.
And for those reasons, the officer made the traffic stop. Well, whether or not this traffic stop was supported by reasonable suspicion, it’s always up for debate. I will tell you that, first things first, the officer is overall doing a very good job, articulating a lot of stuff. Do I think that there was reasonable suspicion here for a stolen vehicle? The answer is “No.”
Based on only what I read from what the officer is putting down, I can’t interject my own articulation into his reports, because that’s not my job. My job is to evaluate what you give me. In order to look at this reasonable suspicion, we have to ask this question: “If we uphold this traffic stop under these particular facts provided, is that specific enough for criminal activity?” Because if we say “yes,” then that means that we can stop everybody who fits these set of facts. That’s the reason why I say “no.”
It’s very important for you to recognize that if the facts that you give me, for example, or your DA, are XY and Z, and you’re saying “that’s why I stopped the person,” then what you are saying, in essence, is that everybody who has X, Y and Z factors can be stopped by the police. Does that make sense? And the next question is, are these factors kind of so generic, that it would be a dragnet essentially, for a lot of innocent people?
I’ll use a case from the Ninth Circuit to illustrate this point. Let me read you the quote. “Reasonable suspicion must not be based on broad profiles which cast suspicion on entire categories of people.” That’s the rationale upon which the reasonable suspicion doctrine is based. A doctrine that thwarts the notion of liberty and freedom from state intrusion in a mobile society must be founded on an objective basis for suspecting that a particular person is engaged in criminal activity, lest we sweep many ordinary citizens into a generality of suspicious appearances merely on hunch.
Reasonable suspicion can not rest upon the hunch of an experienced officer, even if the hunch turns out the turns out to be right. There is a requirement of objective fact to support an inference of wrongdoing. So, in other words, we have to be specific enough to convince the court that we reasonably believe that this particular person is engaged in criminal activity.
Now, let’s use this logic and let’s go back to our traffic stop. Well, there was nothing except for this; the lights off business, right? There was nothing specific about this person. These conditions about why this was potentially a stolen vehicle and why this was a an unlawful placard, it’s all generalities, right?
And I understand, don’t get me wrong, all these generalities and these factors will come in because they are relevant. But is that enough to make it specific enough? If we buy off on this, if the court says, “Officer, you are good, you can stop this person for reasonable suspicion,” they are also saying, “Officer, if you see other people under the same facts, you can stop them too.”
That means that people with these Texas buyer plates at midnight in this neighborhood with their lights off in a parking lot can be stopped, detained and interrogated about their vehicle. I am not convinced that the court is going to see it that way. I don’t see anything specific.
Maybe the person looks at police and starts trying to drive away. Maybe the person looks at the cops and starts ducking, and so forth. Maybe the Texas buyer plate, has an obviously expired date. But we need something more than what’s there.
Now, I still think the stop was valid, because it appears to me that at least we have an arguable reason that the vehicle is violating a no parking zone by parking in a red zone. But in and of itself, I don’t think that we have enough reasonable suspicion for a stolen vehicle. So I think the stop was okay, but for a different reason.
This is very, very important. But the message here is that the officer was doing a good job. Ultimately, again, that stuff was lawful, but it’s your job to be as specific as possible about this particular person. If you’re not, you may have an unconstitutional detention on your hands. And that can cause lots of problems; suppression of evidence, internal discipline, lawsuits, and so forth.
All right, I’m not trying to be hypercritical on any of you. I did the job. I also probably had stops that weren’t even as well articulated as this one. So the officer again is doing a good job. But I do want you to realize that it has to be a little bit more specific than these generalities.
I hope this helps. Keep the questions coming at search and firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!