By on July 29, 2010

A motorist who avoids a police car is inherently suspicious, according to a ruling handed down by the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Tuesday. A three-judge panel found that even if the officer observed no illegal conduct, a traffic stop and interrogation is justified when a driver seems not to want to be around a patrol car.

On January 23, 2009 at around 3pm, Mario Pacheco had been driving in South Minneapolis. While on Minnehaha Avenue, two city police officers spotted Pacheco’s car, which pulled over and parked on the side of the road after signaling. The officers made a u-turn to get a better look at the vehicle. Returning to the scene about a minute later, they found the car once again driving. Pacheco again signaled, pulled over and parked. The officers conducted a traffic stop and cited Pacheco for driving on a canceled license, but Pacheco appealed on the grounds that police had no reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity to justify the stop.

A district court noted that Pacheco did not make eye contact with the police and that he had violated no traffic laws and therefore suppressed the evidence obtained from the illegal stop. A three-judge appellate panel disagreed, insisting that the officers had reasonable suspicion that a crime was taking place.

“The reasonable-suspicion standard is not high,” Judge Renee L. Worke wrote in an unpublished opinion.

The appeals court had previously been of the opinion that evasive behavior did not justify a stop, but in 1989 the state supreme court overruled the appellate judges in a similar case, Minnesota v. Johnson.

“The district court apparently interpreted Johnson to require an officer to make eye contact with a driver in order for conduct to be considered evasive,” Worke explained. “This is a misinterpretation of Johnson. The supreme court never mandated eye contact as a requisite for evasive conduct. Rather, the supreme court’s discussion of the trooper’s eye contact with the defendant was made in an assessment of the basis for the trooper’s reasonable, articulable suspicion.”

At trial, the officers testified that pulling to the side of the road was behavior inconsistent with how an average citizen behaves and that he thought Pacheco might have been “casing businesses or residences in the neighborhood to burglarize them.” One officer insisted the stop was necessary “to investigate his behavior and to make sure that he wasn’t attempting to commit any crime.” The appeals court believed this was sufficient.

“Viewing the totality of the circumstances in this case, the suspicion caused by respondent twice abruptly parking his vehicle when followed by a squad car is strengthened when the car is traveling through an area that the officers consider to be a high-crime area,” Worke concluded. “Based on the conduct of respondent and the officers’ concern for the area where the stop occurred, the officers exhibited the requisite reasonable, articulable suspicion to justify the stop. Accordingly, the district court erred in concluding that the stop was invalid and suppressing all evidence gathered from the stop.”

A copy of the decision is available in a PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Minnesota v. Pacheco (Court of Appeals, State of Minesota, 7/27/2010)


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44 Comments on “Minnesota Appeals Court: Avoiding Police Justifies Traffic Stop...”

  • avatar

    So I’m at a trendy nightlcub last night and notice this super hot woman alone at the bar. I’m about to walk over and make my move, but then she abruptly starts texting on her phone, ignoring me.

    If this had happened in Minnesota, would it mean that she really wants me?

  • avatar

    Hey, I know that cop! He has his own blog:

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Hey, that guy is going to get a severe case of the 1980’s. Just look at all that styrofoam!

    Someone needs to get him 2 orders of Bill Clinton and a side of a Middle Eastern war stat!

    Oh throw in a few ‘Brownies’ and an economic meltdown while you’re at it too.

  • avatar

    Awesome. There goes ‘Reasonable Suspicion’.
    Yet more reason for the Keystone Kops to pull over ordinary law-abiding citizens for a burned-out tail light on the 29th of every month, while the actual bad guys just skate on by.

    Btw, can’t we have a Federal mandate for anti-douchebag/psycho testing for people who want to get into Law Enforcement?

    -Wouldn’t it just be more effective if we took all the narrowminded hoo-yah dick-hardener State Troopers et al and repurposed them as human cannonball ammo to launch at Afghan & Iraqi insurgents?
    –>If Ringling Brothers can successfully launch an acrobat into an Elephant’s ass crack, then surely some use can be made of the more nazi-blockheaded LEOs.

    I could be wrong though, I’m sure there are a few cops out there who are good guys. And by ‘a few’, I mean 3. Total.

  • avatar

    I can definitely relate to Mr. Pacheco. There’s nothing more unnerving than having a police cruiser pull up behind you. I always have the sense that he’s going through the list of things I could be doing wrong (current registration, plate check, speeding, using cell phone, seat belt, inattentive driving, burned out lights, plates properly affixed, etc, etc). I mean really, it’s getting hard to be in complete compliance and I always feel like I could be ticketed for something. Like Pacheco, I have many times considered just pulling over to the side of the road to reduce my chances of a moving violation. I think I’ll actually try it next time and see what happens in California.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      I would like to see law enforcement decoupled from revenue generation. Wouldn’t mind the police so much if I didn’t think some law enforcement decisions were driven by the potential to collect fines. Keep the current traffic laws, but let motorists give the fine to a charity of the motorist’s choice and I bet small town speed traps would disappear.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Things must be pretty slow at the courthouse in Minnie…if this is a PRESSING LEGAL MATTER which requires the PROSECUTOR to APPEAL (spending untold thousands of taxpayer dollars)they must not have much real crime there.

    I’d move there, but the winters suck….

    • 0 avatar

      As an honest to god Minnesotan I have to agree that this is pretty stupid. The police will tag-team for everything especially if they’re in Yuppie-Central (the Twin Cities). My mom was once pulled over because she had too many bumper stickers.

      p.s. The winters only suck when the drivers have no clue. You have people taking exits at 40 mph during ice storms, because they have “traction control” and people in big honking SUVs flying off into the ditch because they felt that 75 was a reasonable speed after a snowstorm and they have 4wd. I see far more SUVs and trucks in the ditches than I do anything else.

    • 0 avatar


      Same for NY, where I grew up, or Beantown, where I live. More trucks. More SUVs. In the ditch.

      And yet, that doesn’t seem to arrest the idea that they’re more easily controllable in snow and ice… Hmm…

  • avatar

    I’m torn on this one. Usually I favor keeping the police on a tight leash, but suppose Pacheco had been carjacked and the jacker didn’t want to have cops behind him. Should the cops just ignore suspicious behavior?

    I sympathize with Pacheco, I’ve had a cop follow me on a deserted highway after midnight for about 15 miles and it wasn’t the most comfortable feeling, but in this case he created reasonable suspicion with his behavior.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Officer: Do you know why I stopped you?

    Me: I am sorry officer, but I was trying to drive safely. Staying under the speed limit and in my lane.

    Officer: See, I knew you were suspicious.

    • 0 avatar

      exactly. Because making sure you are not breaking any laws when an officer is around is proof that you are breaking the law. At least that is how this backwards circular logic works.

  • avatar

    You Americans just keep voting yourselves into slavery…Dumb publik skewl phules.

    PS – Learn to goose-step and refer to your legal mafia as “Rulers” instead of “Leaders”.

  • avatar

    The Virginia police did this one a number of years back when the Grateful Dead’s tour went through the area. They erected a sign on I-95 saying “Drug Checkpoint 1 mile.” Of course, they couldn’t actually stop all I-95 traffic for a drug checkpoint. What they did do, however, was put a drug checkpoint at the top of the exit ramp for the next exit. (and also had hidden officers looking for people throwing drugs out their car windows upon seeing the sign) They argued that leaving the highway in the middle of nowhere after being warned of a supposed drug checkpoint was suspicious enough to warrant a search.

    • 0 avatar

      What they did do, however, was put a drug checkpoint at the top of the exit ramp for the next exit.

      …which was a mile away? They didn’t say that the checkpoint was *on* I95, did they? :]

      The one thing that I’m sympathetic to police about is that they must get frustrated going the speed limit all the time; nobody’s willing to go 10 over (which is the accepted standard; I’ve never been pulled for 10 over) with a cop behind them, just in case it’s the one stickler.

      So cops always end up behind somebody who has to go the speed limit… I’d go nuts.

    • 0 avatar

      The majority of cops don’t do the speed limit in Indiana for very long. They’ll tail you until you move over…..on duty or off-duty with the wife and kids in the car. Same with G plated vehicles with window tint and state-owned, official cars. Seems a little (very) hypocritical that the ones writing and/or enforcing the law don’t abide by it.

    • 0 avatar


      I was thinking about that just yesterday, but I came to two realizations:
      1) Whenever they want to go faster, they can flip on the lights and siren and everyone will get out of their way.
      2) What pressing appointment do they need to make (other than when the lights and siren are going)? They are paid by the hour, not the mile.

      Personally, its the drivers that freak out and go under the speedlimit when they see a cop that bug me. I typically coast to a slower speed, but never below the speed limit and typically 5 mph over on the freeway. I’ve even passed a cop before. I figure that as long as I’m not breaking any driving regulations, I’m safe. I do become nervous when I’m drivig out of state and a state trooper pulls up behind my car because if he cites me, there is no reasonable way for me to fight the ticket, and because he knows that’s the case.

    • 0 avatar

      Going under the speed limit when cops are around?

      Where are you folks driving? Surely, not in Boston!

      Just yesterday: clump of VWs, Mazda minivan, two ‘Rollas, and a cop car right in the middle … Trounced us on I-95 NB toward Burlington – at least 70-75mph. I see this a few times/week, though I do remember when it was more common to slow down with the poh-poh in tow..

  • avatar

    When I’m out riding my motorcycle I’ll pull over and stop if I notice a cop following me.

    Cop riding on my ass is a huge distraction from the road and I’m not going to let a cop put me in a situtation where I’m not focusing ESPECIALLY when I’m out riding.

  • avatar

    If your kid froze up and hit pause on the DVD player every time you came in the room, I think its pretty reasonable to suspect he’s watching something he knows you wouldn’t approve of. I don’t think expecting cops to turn off their common sense is a good idea. There’s the times cops are harassing people for irrational/forbidden reasons, and that’s bad, and there’s the times when some dork keeps pulling over as soon as he sees a cop.

    And my god, I used to consider myself a libertarian.

  • avatar

    Perhaps Pacheco kept stopping and pulling over to avoid the cops BECAUSE HE HAD A CANCELLED LICENSE? Which is still a crime, even in Minnesota?

    Seriously, “articuable reasonable suspicion” is a well established legal concept. Conducting a “Terry stop” on a moving vehicle is no different than conducting a “Terry stop” on a pedestrian who ducks into an alley behind a business when he sees a beat cop coming down the street. This story is a huge nothingburger except to prove that lower court judges are often morons.

  • avatar

    I think people are getting caught up in the semantics of this one case instead of looking at how this is a huge overreach in power. Too many times in court, it comes down to your word vs the officers, and the officer will usually win. Given the presumption that “the officer is always right” which is commonplace in most courts today, coupled with giving the officer the power to pull you over for any reason they feel (even if you have done nothing wrong), is just asking for more police abuse and corruption. With power comes responsibility, and the police are getting more and more power, but no accountability when they make mistakes or are plain wrong. This is not about this one guy, its the fact that this sets a legal precedent.

    • 0 avatar

      I seriously doubt this case sets a legal precedent, either in Minnesota or anywhere else for that matter. The court’s opinion was “unpublished.” If Minnesota’s publication rules are anything like California’s, that means the court’s opinion cannot be cited or relied upon as legal authority. In effect, it’s as if the opinion did not exist.

    • 0 avatar

      It doesn’t set any legal precedent. The legal framework for “reasonable articuable suspicion” was set dozens of years ago in Terry vs. Ohio. According to the article the MN Supreme Court had also ruled in 1989 that evasive behavior was suspicious. This decision just applies that framework to this specific situation. The lower court judge should have done that in the first place.

      According to the article the officers were able to justify their stop by articulating that it was abnormal for a driver to pull all the way over and stop to avoid a police car behind them and that his pattern of behvior by doing it more than once was consistent with someone who might be casing a location for a later burglary. They didn’t pull him over “just because they felt like it.” They pulled him over because he was acting suspicious and wierd in a way that could reasonably be construed by a police officer as an indicator of ongoing or future criminal behavior based upon the officer’s training and experience.

      I can tell you from my personal experience that, yes, civilians don’t like to have a marked police car behind them. But it is not normal for them to then pull all the way over and park to let me pass. They drive exactly at or below the speed limit, begin to use their turn signals with something approaching religious devotion, and, when on a multi- lane highway, pull into the righmost lane so that I will continue past them but they don’t start altering their route, trying to lose me, or interrupting their trip by parking unnecessarily unless they’re up to something.

      So, once you figure out that they are acting (or driving) weird, the next step is to try to figure out why they are acting weird. Are they acting (or driving) weird enough that they might be committing or preparing to commit a crime or are they just goofy? Now you consider factors like the time of day or the location. Is it a time of night when crimes are likely to occur? Is the neighborhood known for drug dealing, prostitution, or other crimes? Have there been burglaries in the area? Is this driver’s behavior consistent with the commission of one of those crimes? It is normal for a driver to stop and park multiple times in the same geographic area if he’s delivering newspapers at 5 in the morning. Its not normal for a driver to stop and park multiple times in the same location at 3 in the afternoon.

      It’s not necessary that I know exactly what crime you are or were planning to commit. Buying dope and buying hookers, for example, require you to perform a lot of the same suspicious behaviors. Forcing officers to commit to the investigation of a specific offense (dope dealing) before making the stop and then throwing out evidence of other crimes (dead hooker in backseat observed when officer approached the driver) revealed during the investigation woud be silly. Pulling over to avoid the police and pulling over multiple times are behaviors consistent with scouting a location for a buglary. They are also consistent behaviors for a motorist who doesn’t want to get busted for DUI, driving uninsured, driving without a license, or while committing other equipment or registration violations.

      And, in fact, Pacheco was acting suspicious and weird because he was engaged in the criminal behavior of driving with an expired driver’s license. He drove like he did hoping that he could avoid detection. He might as well have hung a flashing neon sign on his car that read “I’m up to no good. Ask me why.” No, the cops didn’t know that driving with an expired license was the specific criminal enterprise he was engaged in, but the courts don’t require “probable cause” for a specific offense for an investigative stop or detention.

      No new ground was covered here. It must take a lot of effort to remain perpetually outraged.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 Dukeboy01

      You guys have a very difficult, dangerous job and have my utmost respect.

    • 0 avatar


      If all officers were doing their job as reasonably as you do yours, I would have no problem. Reality says different. No outrage, just reality.

  • avatar

    If he had pulled over and remained parked – you know like if he was parking for some reason other than to avoid the police – there would have been no reasonable suspicion. It’s the fact that he pulled over and parked then left after the police passed by then pulled over again a minute later after the police had circled back around behind him. the cops would have to be labotomized not to find that suspicious behavior.

    • 0 avatar

      once again, this is not about him, it is about the legal precedent this sets.

    • 0 avatar

      the legal precedent that acting suspiciously is grounds for reasonable suspicion?

    • 0 avatar

      No. The legal precedent that a cop can pull you over for any reason he “feels” like it. This one case is somewhat clear cut, but there will be many others after this where the officer is clearly wrong, yet will have no consequences because “the officer is always right” in court. That precedent.

    • 0 avatar

      The only “precedent” set by this case is that repeatedly parking the moment you see a cop is reasonably and articuably suspicious. Your belief that it opens the door to random stops based on “feel” is specious. The “reasonable suspicion” precedent was set and sustained a long time ago. This ruling does not change it.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    At least the cop does not seem to base the case on a falsification of the facts. Defendant is not questioning the fact pattern. Just relevance and legality of facts.

    Last one I remember here was with the cop saying something patently dubious and prevailing.

    It could have gone far worse for defendant, bullets flying and so on.

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