Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Freaking Cops

I'm usually one of the last people to say something bad about a policeman, and I know that they do plenty of good things for us all, but on Monday night one really over-stepped his bounds with me. I was driving to Nashville to see my girl, having to leave after my night class. Because it was late, I was going fast, and got pulled over by a White House, Tennessee cop.

I figured I'd been caught, so I'd get a ticket and drive on. No big deal, only my third. But no, I never got a ticket; this one was going after something else. When he approached my car, I had my license ready for him, just to make it easier. I'd done this before. But he thought I had put a weapon under my leg when I reached into my pocket! He took my license and called it in to search my records. He told me to get out of the car, and made me take out everything in my pockets so he could pat me down. I thought he was going to make me walk a straight line or touch my finger to my nose, but no. He had to call the drug-sniffing dog.

Now, I'm a pretty clean cut looking guy. I drive a Ford Taurus that needs a car wash, but otherwise is in really good shape. There is nothing about me that would make you think I was a druggie or a drug dealer. And, of course, there's nothing at all in my car to find. This cop obviously had an agenda, seeing drugs everywhere.

So, I have to stand there and make small talk with this bastard while we wait for the other car to come with the dog. I'm playing the clean cut image to a tee, which isn't that much of a stretch for me, and he starts saying how this dog can sniff up to 100,000 time better than a human. And that a drug smell could stay in my seats for years. Meaning that this dog is almost certain to find something. What if I had had someone in my car with pot on them, and I didn't know it? The dog would find that. And then, would they have some legal permission to rip my car to bits? Drug-runners hide it in the seats, behind the radio, on top of the wheel, anywhere, and they'd want to find that.

Eventually this guy must have figured out that I'm not up to anything. I told him straight that he won't find anything on my record, in my car, in my Dr. Pepper, anywhere. Told him he could search what he wanted to. I'm just trying to get to where I'm going before midnight. Thankfully, he offered to search my car himself, but humiliated me one last time by making me sit in the back seat of his car while he did it.

So, he searches my car, and of course finds nothing. The jerk left my briefcase open with some books out, messed up the papers in my car, and even spilled a bit of my food. And through all of this, I simply had to take it. Does anyone know if my rights were officially violated? Because I feel that they were, no matter what the law says.


At 4/21/2005 08:46:00 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

Unfortunately, Mike, there's no easy answer to this. Having a former drug dealing brother in law, I've learned a lot about illegal searches and what not.

It's not as easy to get out of searches as it is in the movies. You can technically refuse to have your car searched, but all he has to do is get a warrant if he fills up to it. Which means you'd be stuck there even longer or even worse, be taken to the station.

From a legal standpoint, your rights were not violated, but it's still a really shitty way for that cop to act. Now, depending on how he went about the search, which doesn't sound very proper, if somehow he did find something or the dog sniffed something from years ago and he ripped up your seats and such, you would probably be able to get some money from the state with the right lawyer.

But most likely, he was just having a shitty week or whatever, and you caught him at the wrong time. The fact that you didn't get a ticket meant that he probably didn't want to have to face you again. Therefore, the dick knew he was acting out of line and thinks by not giving you a ticket it will end there. I'm sorry to hear that happened, man. That is some serious bullshit.

At 4/21/2005 08:56:00 AM, Blogger PaulNoonan said...

Disclaimer section: Realizing I don't have the full details, and that the law there is different from the law there, and that I'm not going to research any Tenn law right now, and that I'm not even licensed there, so what I am about to say is not, technically, "legal advice" I think that the cop was probably within his rights, annoying as that is (Note: This is not my specialty, so take it for what it's worth).End Disclaimer Section.

Making you get out and patting you down was almost certainly ok, because the cop had a legit safety concern. You really should wait until he's at your window before going for your license, especially, if, like most highway patrolmen, he's working alone. I've gotten it out early too, without any problems, but if you do that, the cop can frisk you.

Now it gets a little more iffy. When he got out, he obviously found no gun. It should have been obvious that you were simply getting out your license. So, to do a search, he needs "probable cause" and he probably did not have it.

The reason that I'm unsure is that traffic stops are wierd. It's not like searching your house, the cops have more rights with your car, and don't necessarily need a warrant. That being said, I'm pretty sure that they do need some reason to perform the search, and can't just stop people willy-nilly (Willy-nilly is a complex legal term, don't convern yourself with it).

Detaining you while waiting for the dogs could be seen as a coercive tactic to get your "consent" for an unwarranted search. This may be actionable.

Ultimately though, it's not worth pursuing because you didn't incur any "harm." What harm you did incur was de minimus, so you probably won't get anything out of it.

However, if your motive is strictly revenge, you could call up the station (if you have his info) and file a formal complaint. When you do, make sure to explain which portions of the stop you understood, and which you felt were over the top. Also mention the cops demeanor. They are supposed to be either coldly professional, or courteous, especially if you're not a dirtbag. A condescending policeman hurts their community relations, and they do take such things seriously.

Anyway, if you care to pursue the matter further, my brother/co-blogger is still in law school, and law students know more about criminal law than do non-criminal practicing attorneys, and I would be more than happy to put the question to him.

I hope this was helpful.

At 4/21/2005 12:07:00 PM, Blogger Chris said...

I am, of course, no stranger to being pulled over. I have gotten 9 speeding tickets since I was 16, and I've been pulled over 3 other times besides that where I was let go. I don't consider myself a bad driver--I don't get into wrecks or endanger people's lives by making risky maneuvers.

Once, during a DUI/driver's license checkpoint, I felt pretty pissed at this cop who was making a big deal about how the address on my license was different from where I was actually living (I had told him I was going to college at MTSU, not really thinking anything would be made of it). The guy took my license and went to his car, spent 5 minutes there, giving me ample time to fume about it. He let me go, citing I needed to get the license correct. I actually asked this guy, "Dude, what's with jerking me around like this? I'm not doing anything wrong," and he said that it was a DUI/driver's license check, and he was doing his job, and so forth. But my problem was just that he made it seem like I was doing something really wrong, like I had an open bottle of Scotch in the passenger seat and a dead hooker in my trunk.

When you get these late-night guys, they've been looking for something to do all night. When they find anything, they're going to take their time doing it. Especially in White House, where I imagine nothing goes on for long stretches of time. Still, I don't think a cop realizes what a hassle all of this is, in particular, when he doesn't have anything obvious to go on to do a thorough job. But, I guess he was hoping to get lucky, and have a story to tell.

At 4/21/2005 12:38:00 PM, Blogger Kennelworthy said...

Okay, here's my two cents:

About 8 years ago, my buddy Josh and I were riding around our college town at 2 in the morning. We were on our way back from a friends to the campus, when we realized we had forgotten something back at the house. So we turned into this access road near an interstate, turned around, and pulled out.

We were pulled over by two officers in one car immediately. They were both bordering on rude, but their attitude could have been considered "cold professionalism." They asked if we had any guns or drugs in the car and we said no. And we were sort of laughing when we said no because he and I were just not anywhere near drug and gun guys and we just thought it was ridiculous.

They asked us to get out so they could take a look...and we did. And they weren't real nice about it or how they did it.
They ask a few more silly questions, shining the light rudely in our eyes...and then they go back to their car. Then we sat there for about two hours. Finally they walked back up, gave us our IDs, and told us we were free to go.

I very pointedly asked what this was all about and he told me: a car matching exactly my car's description, with two white guys in it, had been down under the highway (the access road we used to turn around led to a small field under the highway where this other car had been spotted) shooting his gun at cars passing on the interstate!

What's my point? Well, I've been pulled over close to 20 times, though I've only had a few tickets. I just seem to have a knack for drawing police attention to my non-criminal driving behavior. But in the case of my story, there was a very good reason why I was pulled over...and a very good reason why they kept us for so long...and a very good reason why they were so short and "coldly professional" with me. The reason was that there was a shooter out there running free, shooting at cars, endangering lives.

They seemed rude to me while questioning me...but at that time I didn't have all the facts.

I'm not trying to say, Mike, that you shouldn't be upset or file a complaint. I wasn't there. Certainly sounds like the guy was just having a little fun being the authority figure. I don't think there was a car out there matching your description that was shooting at people. I think he was just one of those "jerk" cops that you see from time to time.

My point is just that sometimes there's more going on than we think...and there may be a reason why the cops take a longer look at us, or are a little blunt with us. I would hate for instances like this to turn us all against cops, because the majority of them are polite people just trying to do their job to protect society. Too bad a rotten apple or two ruin the whole bunch (the public relations thing). I mean, I've been pulled over by more nice cops than jerks...but I still sometimes struggle against taking the stereotyped opinion that all cops are power-tripping jerks. It's just so uncomfortable and annoying when they're like that...that it's hard not to judge the entire force for one cop's actions.


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