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Car’s color alone doesn’t support traffic stop

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In a matter of first impression in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and federal courts, the judges were asked to consider whether a discrepancy between the observed color of a car and the color listed on its registration alone gives rise to reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

Putnam County Sheriff’s Deputy Dwight Simmons stopped Jesus Uribe’s blue Nissan on I-70 around 2 a.m. solely because when running a check on Uribe’s Utah license plate, the registration indicated that it belonged to a white Nissan. Simmons believed the car may be stolen. When Simmons approached Uribe’s car, he noticed Uribe was nervous. Uribe gave permission to search the car, which turned up heroin.

Uribe wanted the drug suppressed, arguing the deputy had no reasonable suspicion to stop the car based on color alone. Indiana and Utah law don’t require a driver to amend his registration if he changes the color of his car. The government argued Simmons’ experience taught him that stolen cars are often repainted but did not provide testimony from Simmons or numbers to back up the argument.

The District Court granted Uribe’s motion, which the 7th Circuit affirmed in United States of America v. Jesus Uribe, 11-3590.  

Judge Ann Claire Williams pointed out that this issue is novel for the court. Other Circuit courts have considered a car’s color, but in conjunction with several other factors establishing reasonable suspicion. In this case, the government didn’t provide any evidence to tip the scales from a “mere hunch to something even approaching reasonable and articulable suspicion,” she wrote.

“Our review of the totality of the circumstances here leads us to conclude that no reasonable suspicion of vehicle theft attaches to a completely lawful color discrepancy in the absence of any evidence suggesting otherwise,” she continued.

The judges also rejected the government’s argument that Simmons could have believed that Uribe was in violation of an Indiana vehicle registration requirement, I.C. 9-18-2-27(a), which says a car required to be registered under this chapter may not be used on the highway if the vehicle displays a registration number belonging to another vehicle. But the government hasn’t shown that the statute applies in this situation, and the provision doesn’t apply to the Utah-registered vehicle Uribe was driving, the court held.

 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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