By on December 15, 2010

A federal judge last week overturned the result of a traffic stop in Baltimore, Maryland after the reason for the stop was found to be bogus. On January 26 at around 1:30pm, Baltimore City Police Officers Jimmy Shetterly, Frank Schneider, and Manuel Moro ordered a white Ford Crown Victoria with tinted windows to pull over while driving on Pennsylvania Avenue near Mosher Street. As part of the Central District Operations Unit, the officers saw their mission as “proactive crime fighting” and instead of waiting for calls, their mission was to go and find a crime. The officer sitting in the back seat of the patrol car found one in the form of a claimed vehicle defect.

“Notably, Officer Moro’s version of events indicates that from his position in the rear of the police vehicle, he could identify a crack in a windshield on the right passenger side of a car, turning right, away from the police vehicle, through his own vehicle’s windshield, and across an intersection,” Judge Richard D. Bennett wrote. “All three officers testified that after they turned left onto Mosher Street following the Crown Victoria, they could see through the tinted rear window of the Crown Victoria and could identify the crack in the windshield, notwithstanding the fact that there were three passengers between the officers and the windshield.”

During the stop, the officers asked for permission to search the Ford. The driver consented. Travis Gaines was a backseat passenger and could not open the doors from the inside because the Ford used to be a police car. So to get out, Gaines began climbing over the front seat. This caused Officer Shetterly to become concerned. He opened the door, allowed Gaines to exit, then searched him. He found Gaines had been illegally carrying a Bryco Arms .380 semi-automatic pistol.

For the court, the legitimacy of the weapon possession arrest hinged on whether police had probable cause for the initial traffic stop. Judge Bennett openly questioned the credibility of the officers after examining a series of prosecution photographs of the windshield.

“It is uncontested that there is indeed a crack in right portion of the windshield of the Crown Victoria,” Judge Bennett explained. “However… this Court does not believe it was possible for the police officers to see the crack in the windshield as they have described it… Put simply, this court having heard the testimony of the police officers, and having reviewed the exhibits, finds as a factual matter that the officers could not have seen the very slight crack in the lower right portion of the Crown Victoria’s windshield.”

Because the stop was illegal, Bennett ruled that the evidence could not be used against Gaines. Gaines has been forced to wear an electronic monitoring device since his indictment in July. The public defender asked Monday that, given the ruling, the device should be removed while the prosecution considers the possibility of appeal.

A copy of the decision is available in a 40k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File US v. Gaines (US District Court, District of Maryland, 12/15/2010)


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21 Comments on “Maryland: Federal Court Overrules Window Crack Traffic Stop...”

  • avatar

    The stop does sound sketchy and harrassing, so I agree with the decision to throw out the search evidence… but it’s pretty hard to tell the cops not to follow their instincts when their instincts turn up illegally carried firearms. At least there is one less weapon out there.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      In more advanced discussion systems, this is where you’d see one of those rolling-eyes graphics.

    • 0 avatar

      When cops’ “instincts” result in actions which are illegal, that’s a problem for those of us who actually care about liberty.   The fact that they found something doesn’t justify an illegal search.

      After all, they could have had “instincts” about a hundred people before, searching cars left and right, before they found this firearm.   While harassing this person illegally, they could have also missed a much more grave crime down the street.  There’s no way to know, but if you want to live in a country where you cannot be searched at any time for any reason, you might want to think twice about your latter line of reasoning.

  • avatar

    They should really be looking at rims. Best way to find a gangster. Rims and a cougar.

  • avatar

    “However… this Court does not believe it was possible for the police officers to see the crack in the windshield as they have described it…”
    So why aren’t these police officers being sent to jail for lying under oath?

  • avatar

    I never understand why folks consent to the search if they know they are ridin’ dirty.   Just say “no thanks”.

  • avatar

    None of this would’ve happened if Burrell was still in charge.

  • avatar

    “Probable cause” is irrelevant for Terry stops.  The standard is “reasonable suspicion.”
    Maybe someone with some legal training should take over the “cops suck” section of TTAC.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      As I understand it (and I am no lawyer or LEO), something we might describe as “police policy” has overridden the original flow of events, whereby an independent magistrate would review a “reasonable suspicion” arrest and determine whether probable cause exists (resulting in release or jail for the suspect). That intermediate review process was meant to implement the “supported by Oath or affirmation” part of the fourth Amendment. In effect, police may cite reasonable suspicion, but they now also play the role of the “committing official” which implies they elevate reasonable suspicion to probable cause on the fly, without the involvement of any senior (or independent/impartial) authority.
      To me, this suggests the difference is mostly a legal fiction at this point.

    • 0 avatar

      “Probable cause” is irrelevant for Terry stops.  The standard is “reasonable suspicion.”
      You’re picking nits. The federal court’s opinion itself says in a heading “A.  Government Has Failed to Show Probable Cause for Traffic Stop.” Although in the body of that section, the court identifies the standard for traffic stops as “reasonable suspicion.”

      Also, the court cites the United States Supreme Court for this statement: “a routine traffic stop is reasonable if the officer had ‘probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred.’” Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 810 (1996).

      Maybe it is common for those with some legal training to use “probable cause” and “reasonable suspicion” interchangeably. Or maybe you are right, and no one with any legal training makes that mistake.

      In that case, someone with some legal training should write federal court opinions. Particularly at the Supreme Court. You would think that at least one justice or law clerk at the Supreme Court would have some legal training and catch that kind of error.

      Shameful that they don’t and didn’t. We should, as you say, hold TTAC to a higher standard.

  • avatar

    Being allowed to profile would keep so many more crimes from happening.

    While we’re at it, let’s start public canings too!

    The part you don’t see, in the story above, is what kind of neighborhood they were in (Baltimore is a shitty town, much like Detroit). You don’t see what “actually” caused suspicion of the vehicle or it’s passengers. Cops in shitty neighborhoods have it hard enough as it is already. If the cops didn’t get this guy first, something worse could have happend.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah.  Let’s assume the guy is guilty of being a cop killer because he had a gun.
      And people without enough money to live in nice neighborhoods should just give up all their rights because cops “have it hard enough as it is”.
      Do you understand what this country is about at all?

  • avatar

    Look for “Don’t talk to police even if you’re innocent” on YouTube.  It’s very informative and will save your butt from jail!

  • avatar

    “the officers saw their mission as “proactive crime fighting” and instead of waiting for calls, their mission was to go and find a crime.”
    How is this different from some guys rolling around looking for trouble?
    This is not helping.

  • avatar

    Wow. Lying cops in Baltimore-who knew.

    /Seen ‘The Wire’ enough times to know just what I’m talkin’ about.

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