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Court: Police shouldn't have made traffic stop

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An appellate decision today in a drunk-driving traffic stop case out of Fort Wayne illustrates how a lack of knowledge about a particular road’s layout can derail the prosecution of someone who may have been intoxicated behind the wheel.

The ruling comes in State of Indiana v. James H. Sitts, No. 02A03-1001-CR-34, which comes from Allen Superior Court and involves a traffic stop for suspected drunk driving in June 2008.

Officer Dennis McCann received a report about an apparent drunk driver traveling northbound on a main artery in Fort Wayne. After responding to that area he began following a southbound pickup truck that could have been the one at issue. Witnessing the vehicle cross out of the lane of traffic into another one, the officer stopped the truck and witnessed signs that Sitts was intoxicated. McCann arrested Sitts for misdemeanor drunk driving and an infraction for crossing the centerline. The local prosecution pressed that “driving left center” infraction, but the trial judge suppressed the evidence after finding the police shouldn’t have made the traffic stop based largely on the observation that the driver “weaved across the center line” once.

The state Attorney General’s Office appealed and argued the lower court was wrong because the driver had in fact crossed the centerline into the opposite lane of travel and that meant McCann had reasonable suspicion to stop Sitts based on the minor traffic violation alone.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals today affirmed the Allen Superior Court’s ruling because there was a simple problem with the state’s arguments: appellee-defendant James Sitts didn’t cross a centerline into opposing traffic, but rather he crossed the line into a lane going in the same direction.

“Sitts did not cross into the opposite lane of travel as the State asserts,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote, applying the facts to the traffic code provision detailed in Indiana Code 9-21-8-2(a). “Thus, we conclude that Officer (Dennis) McCann mistakenly believed that Sitts violated the statute.”

The judges also addressed how McCann didn’t substantiate any part of the report he’d received from dispatch, agreeing with the local judge that relying on that for the stop was unfounded based on Washington v. State, 740 N.E.2d 1241, 1246 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000). Even though police can stop drivers for swerving back and forth between lanes, that didn’t happen here and the officer only observed Sitts crossing into the other lane once.
 

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  4. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

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