Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Pretext stops subvert public trust, undermine rule of law

A prosecutor from Limestone County, seeking to justify what appears to be a classic pretext stop of a driver, in April posed this question for their colleagues on the Texas District and County Attorneys Association User Forum:
I have a suppression issue with a defendant coming to a stop at a red traffic light, then turns on her left turn signal. After a few seconds she then switches to the right turn signal, then proceeds to turn right. I was wondering if anyone knows if I can say she violated 545.104 for not "signaling continuously for not less than the last 100 feet of movement before the turn" or if the fact that she came to a complete stop at the red light negates the 100 ft rule. Thanks!
Another prosecutor from Brazos County chimed in to assure our protagonist that "you're 100% good" on such an interpretation. So, suggesting you'll turn left with your turn signal, changing your mind, then signaling and turning right is a criminal act, according to this myopic and uncharitable view.

The first prosecutor mentioned a couple of supposed case cites to support this position, but when Grits looked them up, neither seemed on point.

This law requiring drivers to signal 100 feet in front of a turn is a near-constant source of shenanigans by cops on the roadside. It's one of the more common "pretext stop" offenses - when officers are using a traffic stop as a phony excuse to stop and search drivers.

There's no driver out there who has never violated this law, in part because it's frequently an impractical and wrongheaded suggestion to follow.  E.g., if there's a business entrance or alley within 100 feet of the turn you're taking, it can be confusing to others to use the turn signal prematurely. And anyway, how good are you at estimating exactly 100 feet?

Moreover, who hasn't changed their mind about their destination, signalling one way then realizing some prior obligation meant you needed to go the other? (Considering the question, there's a stop sign a few blocks from my home - where one direction goes downtown and the other to my daughter's place - where Grits probably does that several times per month!) The driver wasn't accused of turning from the wrong lane, so the turn, if signaled, would have been legal from that spot.

A law that everyone routinely violates because of its arbitrariness and impracticality becomes a path for the government to bypass 4th Amendment protections. Police can simply follow anyone they choose for a few minutes and wait for a signal less than 100 feet before a turn. Then they get a supposedly legal if objectively dubious basis to conduct a roadside search.

This is the sort of behavior by cops and prosecutors which erodes public trust of law enforcement by treating the law as a tool to violate people's rights rather than an agreed set of rules clearly designed to protect them and keep everyone safe on the road.


Brad Walters said...

One of the cases claimed that if the language of the statute does not lead to absurd results they must assume the legislature intended what they wrote. They then asserted it did not lead to any absurd result. Ok, how about this. My house is on a corner. My driveway is less than 100 feet to the stop sign at the end of our street, where you must turn left or right as the street does not continue. So if I pull out of my driveway and signal immediately as I approach the stop sign I cannot signal continuously for one hundred feet before my turn unless I first backup about forty feet before approaching the end of the street where I must turn left, right or back up. I cannot go that route without giving the police a technically and of course objectively correct reason to pull me over for not signaling 100 feet prior to my turn. Our courts are willing to do some mighty stupid verbal gymnastics to affirm stupid decisions and maintain the conviction of a bad guy while screwing the rest of us by their willful nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Here is the front of my office and the street it faces. Persons park on the left. When they back out and go down the street to turn left or right they are automatically in violation of this law because they have continuously moved for less than 100 ft, even if they have their turn signal on from the moment they start their car.


It's nonsense. Most cases have started to erode that b.s. 100 feet turn signal nonsense. I have won many suppression hearings because the officer cannot draw a conclusion of how far out they were. Here is a good case on that:

Although the record contains a video from Officer Eubank's patrol car showing that Appellee signaled before she turned into a parking lot, the record reveals an absence of any specific, articulable facts that would allow an officer to reasonably conclude that Appellee signaled for less than 100 feet before her turn.

As their footnote says: "Based on our review of the video, we are unable to discern the distance Appellee traveled using her turn signal before she turned into the parking lot."

State v. Hneidy, 510 S.W.3d 458, 464 (Tex. App. 2013)

Here's another:

The sole articulable fact that Officer Sherwood identified as the basis for his stop was the traffic violation he claimed to have witnessed. If, contrary to Officer Sherwood's testimony, he physically could not have seen whether Mills had or had not signaled within the one-hundred feet before the intersection, he would, without more, have had no more than a hunch or suspicion that Mills committed the traffic violation—not reasonable suspicion.
Mills v. State, 296 S.W.3d 843, 848 (Tex. App. 2009)

I would say fight these tooth and nail. Unless a cop has measured from an intersection to where their car sits 100ft+, they are using it as a pretext.

Anonymous said...

"And anyway, how good are you at estimating exactly 100 feet?"

Another question, "How good is the cop at estimating exactly 100 feet?"

The likely scenario is that the cop doesn't have to be right, so if the turn signal lasted for only 90 feet, the stop will be lawful if it looked like he had a gun, or I mean it looked like it was 100 feet. If the driver estimates 100 feet but it is only 90 feet until he turns, the stop will also be lawful. The Constitution never wins.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Poster at 7:21 forgot to take his meds.