-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
A trooper with the Maine State Police clocked a red Pontiac doing 71 MPH in a 45 MPH zone. As the trooper was making a turn to pursue the Pontiac, a motorcycle passed him. After a brief pursuit the trooper lost sight of the Pontiac and arrived at a fork in the road. After proceeding a brief distance and not seeing the Pontiac, the trooper returned to the fork and saw the motorcycle, operated by Ronald A. LaPlante.
The trooper pulled over LaPlante for the sole purpose of asking about the direction the Pontiac had gone. The trooper noticed LaPlante was unstable on his feet and had thick speech. The Pontiac was now forgotten and LaPlante was charged with criminal operating under the influence.
LaPlante plead guilty, conditionally, and, because of his existing driving record, was sentenced to two years of imprisonment. Only 60 days of that sentence was suspended. LaPlante moved to suppress the evidence obtained during the vehicle stop but the trial court denied the motion.
In the opinion of the court the traffic stop was a seizure for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment. Since the trooper had no reasonably articulated suspicion of any wrongdoing, the seizure was unreasonable.
The court addressed the three factors from Brown v. Texas:
Consideration of the constitutionality of such seizures involves a weighing of the gravity of the public concerns served by the seizure, the degree to which the seizure advances the public interest, and the severity of the interference with, individual liberty.
The court found that the investigation of noncriminal offenses is generally not a significantly grave public concern to outweigh the motorist’s liberty interest.
The court cites Brandeis, J., in his dissent in Olmstead v. United States, that “the right to be let alone—the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.” The court found that the interference with LaPlante’s liberty interest was significant.
The court vacated LaPlante’s conviction.
Why is it that dissents, such as Brandeis’ above, often have the best jurisprudence?
14 thoughts on “Information-Seeking Stop Was Unconstitutional”
Seems like an obvious case. I guess now the cops will just say “He was swerving” if this ever happens again.
Well obviously I don’t know anything about the law, but… if the cop hadn’t detained him and the rider caused a fatal accident. would the victim’s family have a case against the cop because the cop didn’t detain a drunk?
^^ I meant that all this will do is cause the police to lie about the next man they stop, not that they will lie about this particular stop.
mr.ed has a good point. In fact all this will do is to have the police lie and claim he stopped him for suspicious, reckless driving or whatever.
Was his rights violated? Technically yes, but the cop wasn’t doing so maliciously. He didn’t even know he was violating a right. He was just asking a driver a question.
I understand such points are immaterial to the basic fact that a violation of rights occurred. Still, by asking the man a question, By doing so, he may have saved the driver’s life.
For those more legally astute, would it be an equal violation of one’s rights if a pedestrian was stopped and asked if they saw the man?
Great story Nal! I have to agree with Mike S. That it is refreshing that some judges actually get it right….sometimes!
Our legal system is the best available in theory but is so often imperfectly implied. Usually, the Prosecutors and the LEO’s have the odds stacked heavily on their side, as do the wealthy and prominent. We need cases such as this to try to counterbalance the built-in unfairness.
What, I thought fishing expeditions by law enforcement were always legal!
The court cites Brandeis, J., in his dissent in Olmstead v. United States, that “the right to be let alone—the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.” -from the article
Many in the America have lost “the right” to be left alone.
The court found that the interference with LaPlante’s liberty interest was significant. -again, from the article
This is encouraging.
A more clever cop would have written a citation for a driving infraction to justify the stop. There was plenty of time and opportunity to do so. But many state police/troopers are too straight to do it, thank goodness. Locals? Not so much.
Given that we cannot by nature disregard the proper application of law when it doesn’t suit us, I find it disgusting that we have to reinforce the proper application of law in cases like this. In the course of ensuring that law enforcers and legal system itself follow the laws they are required to enforce, people that should be punished for stupidity must invariably be set free.
Too many cases of mishandled evidence or botched searches have resulted in the release of dangerous individuals, which is a terrible result of stupidity. Protecting the rights of the innocent against unreasonable or unlawful searches, seizures, or harassment in general is absolutely necessary. That being said, it’s still difficult to stomach the fact that it’s usually the guilty that benefit from the entire process.
I’m glad the system is set up as it is, but it’s just frustrating.
“The court vacated LaPlante’s conviction.”
Chances go around,and it was just his day.
“Why is it that dissents, such as Brandeis’ above, often have the best jurisprudence?”
Often it is because a new social direction, a new movement, or a new understanding is developing. Some on the court grasp it earlier than the others, so they dissent a few times then the rest come around.
The irony is that Brandeis, more than any other jurist, is responsible for the Federal power grab in the 30s that did away with the ninth amendment and protection of our retained natural rights. As a litigator, his Brandeis briefs which cited shaky social science “research” quickly led to our liberties becoming a rebuttable presumption of liberty and then restrictions on liberty were restricted without such evidence. See Muller v. Ogden 208 US 412 at 419.
Do you really mean that there are some Appeals Court Judges that actually follow the law….
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