A driver’s answer to an officer’s “incidental” question in a convenience store parking lot can’t come into evidence, a Roanoke City Circuit Court says.
In Commonwealth v. Fuller, a uniformed, shield-wielding officer pulled his patrol car up beside Lloyd Jasper Fuller and saw he was not wearing a seat belt.
“Fuller’s face registered considerable surprise, and he promptly buckled his seat belt,” according to Roanoke City Circuit Judge Clifford Weckstein’s April 20 letter opinion. Weckstein noted parenthetically that in the officer’s experience, most drivers know they should buckle up, but they don’t bother even when spotted by an officer.
Fuller turned into a parking lot. The officer followed, just to keep an eye on things.
Once Fuller began to walk away from his parked car, the officer called out, “Hey man, do you have a driver’s license?” Fuller said no, and when asked if he was “suspended,” admitted that he was an habitual offender.
Fuller was not free to ignore the officer’s question, Weckstein said. Under Va. Code § 46.2-104, the question was a “signal” to stop and “request” to produce a driver’s license.
The judge said not even the good-faith exception would save Fuller’s answers for the commonwealth.
By Deborah Elkins