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Observed Violations Allow Stop

On commonwealth’s appeal, the Court of Appeals reverses suppression of marijuana and cocaine found on defendant’s person incident to his arrest after he fled from police; the numerous traffic violations the pursuing officer observed provide probable cause regardless of his original erroneous suspicion defendant was a murder suspect at large.

One afternoon in February, a police officer in an unmarked car observed defendant’s vehicle traveling east on a highway.   The officer saw defendant commit several minor infractions, changing lanes without signaling and irregular speed.  Ten minutes later, after determining the car was registered to a woman, the officer activated his lights and siren to pursue defendant who refused to stop or slow down.  The officer observed him commit numerous infractions, including speeding in a residential area, driving on the shoulder, cutting off other vehicles, and unsafe lane changes.   Defendant stopped at railroad tracks and approached the officer pretending to have a gun, then turned and fled on foot.  The officer with his gun drawn pursued defendant until he complied with the officer’s command to stop and lay down.   The officer found marijuana, cocaine and a large quantity of cash on defendant’s person.  The trial court granted defendant’s motion to suppress on the basis that the police officer specifically told the police department that he planned to stop defendant to determine if he was a murder suspect at large.

On appeal, the commonwealth argues the numerous traffic violations the officer observed allowed the stop regardless of his initial erroneous suspicion defendant may have been a murder suspect.  We agree.  The observed unlawful acts provide an objectively reasonable basis for an investigatory stop. The officer’s initial intent is irrelevant.  The search incident to defendant’s arrest was lawful.  The overwhelming weight of authority holds the exclusionary rule inapplicable to distinct new criminal acts during an allegedly unlawful police encounter.   Reversed and remanded.

Commonwealth  v. Hickman (Felton) No. 2055-12-2, April 16, 2013; Fredericksburg Cir. Ct. (Willis) Donald E. Jeffrey III, Sr. AAG for appellant; Amy E. Thorpe for appellee VLW 013-7-117(UP), 6 pp.

VLW 013-7-117

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