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COA: Officer’s testimony of speeding alone insufficient for traffic stop

June 20, 2018

A man who argued his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when he was arrested after a traffic stop prevailed Wednesday before the Indiana Court of Appeals, which reversed a trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence from the stop.

Deciding an issue of first impression, the court held that because an officer’s testimony that he witnessed speeding without further evidence is insufficient to support a traffic stop.

After observing Zachariah Marshall’s vehicle was driving past the speed limit, a Porter County reserve officer performed a traffic stop in October 2016.  Soon thereafter, the stop escalated to an investigation of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. The officer’s supervisor arrived on the scene and arrested Marshall.

The officer testified to not writing Marshall a citation for speeding because he decided to “cut him a break” upon finding Marshall would have “plenty of money problems and legal problems ahead of him.”

On August 4, 2017, Marshall filed a motion to suppress, alleging the traffic stop was unlawful. The trial court denied Marshall’s motion but granted his request for a hearing on August 17 when he filed a renewed motion to suppress.

The case moved to the Court of Appeals on interlocutory appeal after Marshall filed a motion asking the trial court to certify its denial of his renewed motion to suppress.

The court held that while the officer had a properly calibrated radar that was working, he could not testify to Marshall’s speed, but only that he was going faster than the posted speed limit. For the traffic stop to be valid, the court held there must be reasonable suspicion a traffic law has been violated or other criminal activity is afoot. It also found that reasonable suspicion does not include general hunches or suspicions.

During a pre-trial deposition, the officer could not recall the posted speed limit at the location of the traffic stop, but claimed he knew at the time of the stop what the speed limit was in the area.

“Because Reserve Officer Dolan could not testify regarding the speed of Marshall’s vehicle in more specific terms,” May concluded, “we hold he did not have specific articulable facts to support his initiation of a traffic stop, and therefore the traffic stop violated Marshall’s Fourth Amendment rights.”

The court concluded that the trial court erred when it denied Marshall’s renewed motion to suppress, and reversed and remanded for proceedings consistent with the opinion of Zachariah Marshall v. State of Indiana, 64A05-1710-CR-2368.

 

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