Floodwood Police Officer stops Driver with Weakest Justification
By Marvin Pirila
In March of 2019, a Floodwood police officer pulled over a pickup truck, alleging he wasn’t wearing his seat belt. The driver had it on and said he always does. The officer proceeded to run a background check and found he had a B card. The B-Card is a Minnesota restricted license that doesn’t allow a motorist to consume any alcohol or controlled substance (without a prescription).
Initial Reason for Stop [by Police Officer]
On or about 0015 hours on 3/15/19, while patrolling the area of 7th Ave W and Railroad Str., I turned east onto Railroad from 7th. I saw pulling up to the stop sign on Railroad St. I could observe that he was not wearing his seatbelt. I could observe this because he was leaning forward to see out into the intersection, leaving a gap between his shoulder and the seat. There was also a street lamp nearby which illuminate the cab of the vehicle through non-tinted windows.
The lighting is poor at best and to allege someone isn't wearing a seatbelt, while turning yourself, seems to be a stretch.
The driver confessed to having a couple of beers and would have been subject to immediate license revocation. However, the officer used the seat belt violation as his reasoning for pulling him over, nothing more. He discovered the B license after the stop.
The officer proceeded with field sobriety tests, which revealed nothing remarkable. When the driver declined to then take a breathalyzer test, he was arrested for DWI. Under the implied consent law, you must take the test or automatically lose your license and face prosecution.
The following stop and arrest were neither reasonable nor justified. It was dark and it would have been highly unlikely the officer could have seen if the driver had his seatbelt on or not. If he didn’t, why did the officer continue for more than a block, turnaround, and retrace? During that time, even if the driver hadn’t had his seat belt on, he surely could have put it on before driving.
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Sec. 10 of the Minnesota Constitution protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures. The remedy for an illegal search and seizure is suppression of the evidence (B card discovery) obtained as a result of the illegal search and seizure.
In such a case, if the officer illegally made the initial traffic stop or otherwise illegally conducted the questioning, testing and/or arrest, the driver can move the court to suppress evidence that was obtained as a result of that illegal search or seizure. In Minnesota, this is known as a “Rasmussen Hearing.” If the Motion for suppression is granted, the prosecution cannot use the illegally obtained evidence at trial. In fact, the prosecution may dismiss the case and/or offer a very favorable plea agreement.
Absent the witnessing of an illegal act, an officer may stop a driver if they have reasonable suspicion that a person has recently committed a crime, is in the process of committing a crime, or is soon going to commit a crime. This gives the officer the right to temporarily detain that person, and to do a pat-down search of his clothing to ensure he has no weapons.
Reasonable suspicion requires more than a feeling. A police officer who has detained a person must be able to describe a specific set of circumstances or facts that would lead any objectively reasonable law enforcement officer to suspect the individual is, or has been, engaged in a criminal activity. In this case, not wearing a seatbelt, with no evidence than I didn’t see one in the dark hardly constitutes reasonable.
The evidence relied on by the police officer was both unjustified and unreasonable.
What later occurred at the police station reveals everything about the true intent of this stop and it had nothing to do with a legitimate arrest. Covering that story in another segment…
Disclaimer: The writer is not an attorney or offering legal advice.