In the Court of Appeals case of People v. Justin Louis Williamson, the Court looked at whether a police was in the right when he pulled a driver over for barely going over the speed limit.
What Happened in the Case
Defendant Williamson was charged with possession with intent to deliver marijuana less than five kilograms. Williamson was driving by himself one night in Oak Park, Michigan. An officer saw him, and decided to follow him. The officer later admitted it was a quiet night and he didn’t have much to do, and so decided to follow Williamson to see if there would be a reason for a pull over.
They were driving in a 40 mph zone. The officer “paced” Williamson’s car at 44 mph. The officer decided to make a traffic stop.
Once he was pulled over, Williamson told the officer he didn’t have a driver’s license, further saying, “you can take the car.” The officer smelled marijuana inside the car. Williamson admitted to possessing marijuana. The officer searched Williamson and the car, finding a digital scale with marijuana residue, $935 in cash, and a bag with 31 grams of marijuana. The officer arrested him.
The defendant and his attorney ran the preliminary examination. His attorney argued there was no cause for the stop. The district court judge disagreed, and bound the case over. The case proceeded in the Oakland County Circuit Court. In circuit court, there was an evidentiary hearing focused on the stop. After the hearing, the judge granted the defense counsel’s motion to suppress and dismissed the case. The prosecution appealed to the Court of Appeals.
The issue in this case is whether the police have the ability to pull someone over for driving 44 in a 40, in what is probably a pre-text stop.
The Court’s Decision
The Court of Appeals looked at the case and said the officer had the cause to pull Williamson over.
For a police officer to pull stop a car, the officer needs an, “articulable and reasonable suspicion that a vehicle or one of its occupants has committed a legal violation. This includes traffic violations, which means civil infractions. A police officer can pull someone over for any civil infraction, even if the officer is using the stop as a pretext for further investigation into something else.
The Court reversed the Circuit Court’s decision.
Takeaways from the Case
A police officer can pull you over for any civil infraction. The number of traffic offenses a person could get pulled over for are numerous. Getting pulled over for 44 in a 40 is one of the softest, weakest stop that this author has ever heard of. Unfortunately for Williamson, this is enough of a reason for the police officer to stop him. Theoretically, an officer could pull someone over for going 1/2 a mph over the speed limit.
Police officers often pull people over for what are called pretext stops. The officer wants to stop a car because the officer wants to question the person inside or take a look inside the car. But the officer needs a reason to do so. What the officer will do find a civil infraction to pull the person over. Once they get the person to the side of the road, that’s when the questions come.
For example, officers will often park outside of downtown areas with the idea that they will pull over drunk drivers after the bar closes on a Saturday. The officer can simply follow a car leaving the bar, wait until the person goes over the speed limit even a little, and then pull the person over and see if they smell like they’ve been drinking.
Sam Bernstein is an Ann Arbor Criminal Defense Lawyer.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.
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