By on October 17, 2011

Spartanburg County Circuit Court Judge Roger L. Couch ruled that driving just 5 MPH under the speed limit, not in the fast lane, is suspicious enough to justify a traffic stop. South Carolina’s second highest court on October 5 examined the case, but sidestepped the speed issue to decide whether a man could be convicted of marijuana possession simply because he was in a car that contained the drug.

The three-judge appellate panel reviewed the September 16, 2008 incident that when Nicholas Carl Davy was driving in the middle lane of traffic on Interstate
85 through Spartanburg County. Andre Jackson was a passenger taking a ride to Greenville. He went to school with and was a friend of Davy’s 22-year-old son.


The legal speed limit on the road was 60 MPH, but Davy was driving at 55 MPH. Some automakers, fearing liability concerns, intentionally build speedometers that read seven percent too high, or about 5 MPH. It is quite possible for a motorist driving 55 MPH on a 60 MPH road to have cruise control set precisely at the speed limit.

Officer Jonathan Montjoy did not see it that way. He noted that most traffic was cruising at between 70 and 75 MPH, so anyone driving the speed limit would be guilty of impeding traffic. At trial, the judge found that state law prohibits impeding traffic, no matter what the speed limit might be, so the traffic stop was ruled valid.

Once the car was pulled over, Montjoy smelled marijuana and ordered the car searched. Both Davy and Jackson were arrested for possession with intent to distribute marijuana. The appellate court ruled there was no evidence that Jackson had anything to do with the contraband, comparing it to similar cases where a passenger was exonerated after the driver was convicted of carrying drugs.

“Jackson and Davy had only met once previously, at Jackson’s grandchild’s birthday party,” Judge Aphrodite K. Konduros wrote for the panel. “Here, the evidence against Jackson is even less than in either Brown or Blue. The drugs were more out of sight, and the state presented no evidence that Jackson was nervous or made any suspicious movements. Accordingly, the state failed to present sufficient circumstantial evidence of knowledge to submit the case to the jury. Thus, the trial court erred in denying Jackson’s motion for a directed verdict.”

Because the finding on the possession charge exonerated Jackson, the appellate panel did not bother deciding whether the initial traffic stop was valid.

Source: South Carolina v. Jackson (Court of Appeals, State of South Carolina, 10/5/2011)

[Courtesy: Thenewspaper.com]

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33 Comments on “South Carolina: Lower Court Rules Driving 55 Suspicious...”


  • avatar
    retrogrouch

    “Officer Jonathan Montjoy did not see it that way. He noted that most traffic was cruising at between 70 and 75 MPH, so anyone driving the speed limit would be guilty of impeding traffic. At trial, the judge found that state law prohibits impeding traffic, no matter what the speed limit might be, so the traffic stop was ruled valid.”

    I hope an enterprising traffic lawyer uses this decision to get some speeding tickets thrown out in SC. Blowback is a bitch.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Talk about “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

    “You’re not speeding” said the officer, “like everybody else. You’re under arrest.”

    • 0 avatar
      bryanska

      Echoes of the left-lane asshat discussion of a few weeks back. Why aren’t the ragers in that discussion tearing this offender apart? He was impeding traffic. According to prior discussion he needs his license revoked, special plates, his picture posted on billboards, yadda yadda.

      Does this phrase “conflicting laws” make sense now to some people?

      • 0 avatar
        Truckducken

        Why no rage? Probably because, unbelievably, the busted gentleman wasn’t creeping along in the passing lane. That would be suspicious behavior in Ohio for sure!

        ed.: Further on down the comment list, I see there is some more discussion of just what lane our dear driver WAS in. Someone needs to clear this up so ragers can rage!

      • 0 avatar
        Brunsworks

        It made sense to me a very long time ago. This is a perfect example. Vote out any legislature that fails to fix such a stupid legal conflict.

  • avatar
    stryker1

    Come visit wonderful South Carolina.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    This wouldn’t be part of Herman Cain’s 5-5-5 plan?

  • avatar
    ComfortablyNumb

    I’ve been wondering what Sammy Hagar has been up to lately…

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Don’t know about the laws in South Carolina but what I CAN say, having been caught behind a very slow driver on several occasions on the interstate (namely I-5 between Tacoma and Seattle where most drivers do at least 65-70+) is that when someone can’t even do the MINIMUM speed on the highway (in this case, now 60MPH), they ARE impeding traffic and potentially causing an unsafe situation.

    That is, you are stuck behind them and someone not paying attention to the speed up ahead doing at least 65, suddenly have to slam on brakes just to avoid hitting those in front.

    One guy was barely doing 45MPH in the inner right lane once and I tried to get the SOB’s attention to no avail and just had to get around him.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      A study was done on accidents associated with driving at a different speed than the rest of traffic. Long story short is that the most dangerous speed delta is when people turn off of or on to the road. (This strongly supports adding turn/acceleration lanes to more roads.) Other than that, what was found is that there is little added danger from driving at 5-10 mph less than traffic. Less than that, however, the added danger begins to match that of driving faster than the flow of traffic.

      The conflicting laws in this case (speed limit v. impeding traffic) are problematic. (I do, however, wholly support enforcing minimum speed limits on freeways–typically 45 mph.) How is a person to decide which takes precedent? I would not be surprised if such laws exist to give cops legal leeway to pull over whomever they want. Traffic stops are a very effective law enforcement tool, not because traffic violations are horrible, but because they locate so many people with other, more serious problems, e.g., outstanding warrants.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Obey your masters and their bureaucrat minions ye commoner mere citizen scum.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    “Some automakers, fearing liability concerns, intentionally build speedometers that read seven percent too high, or about 5 MPH. It is quite possible for a motorist driving 55 MPH on a 60 MPH road to have cruise control set precisely at the speed limit.”

    I owned an ’06 Jetta TDI that was like this. The town where I lived at the time had one of those radar signs that displays the posted speed limit and the speed you are driving. Everytime I passed this thing it always said I was doing several mph less than what my speedometer indicated.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      Yeah, this is very common. If they’re manufacturing speedometers with an accuracy of plus or minus 3%, they’ll calibrate them to be 3% “fast”, so that they actually read between +6% to -0%, because there are stiff penalties for reading too slow but no real penalties for reading too fast.

      Of course, it’s possible to make a speedometer with much better accuracy than 3%, and in fact it’s not even that hard anymore, so speedometers reading wrong is now more of a tradition than anything.

      Most GPS nav systems can tell you your true speed with very high accuracy.

    • 0 avatar
      dvp cars

      ……..those speed sensor boards are popping up everywhere. Personally, I think they’re a positive use of municipal budgets, particularly on neighborhood thoroughfares. More than once I’ve had to drop my speed 10, or even 20mph, and then realized what a dangerous road I was on, schools, driveways, hidden intersections, etc. Much more effective than covert radar revenue traps.

      • 0 avatar
        Alex French

        I totally agree. My home town in Maine has a sign with lights that flash if you’re going too fast. It’s not as fancy as the speed display, but it gets your attention in an important spot… Speed drops from 50 to 35 to 25 as you pass over a hill and into an intersection with a little country store.

  • avatar
    mike

    ever notice the strange or unique names JUDGES often seem to have?

    SC gained a congressional seat after the census. great…

  • avatar
    geozinger

    “Officer Jonathan Montjoy did not see it that way. He noted that most traffic was cruising at between 70 and 75 MPH, so anyone driving the speed limit would be guilty of impeding traffic. At trial, the judge found that state law prohibits impeding traffic, no matter what the speed limit might be, so the traffic stop was ruled valid.”

    Am I correct in reading between the lines here? Is the cop saying that driving the speed limit (since it is not going with the prevailing traffic) illegal?

    So for argument’s sake, in SC, if you get overtaken by a pack of cars driving 100 MPH on the Interstate, either you speed up to prevailing traffic or risk getting a ticket for impeding said traffic?

    Another question: Do other states still display a minimum speed on their portions of the Interstates? I know Ohio used to, but I have not paid attention lately.

    Is there not a minimum speed allowed that is not considered impeding traffic? Or has all of this been discarded?

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      So for argument’s sake, in SC, if you get overtaken by a pack of cars driving 100 MPH on the Interstate, either you speed up to prevailing traffic or risk getting a ticket for impeding said traffic?

      The argument was not just about the vehicle’s speed, but that the car was being operated in the center lane. As usual, The Newspaper doesn’t quite get it right.

      The lower court had ruled that the statute that doesn’t allow drivers to impede traffic isn’t directly related to the speed limit. This should be good news for those of us who loathe the rationalizations made by left-lane bandits that they are free to impede the rest of us simply because they are obeying the speed limit.

      I suppose that the moral of the story here is: if you want to drive stoned, do it in the right-hand lane. You don’t have a “right” to drive below the limit in the passing lanes.

    • 0 avatar
      ppxhbqt

      SC’s minimum is 45 MPH on most Interstates. Some spurs and loops aren’t posted with a minimum.

      I can assure you the officer just saw something else suspicious and looked for a reason; people drive slower than prevailing traffic in the center lane as well as in the left lane all the time on the six-lane part of I-85, through all parts of Spartanburg, Greenville, and Anderson counties.

      • 0 avatar
        dvp cars

        …….I’m just as cynical as you on this one, “driving while pierced, bearded and tattooed” may have provoked the stop. Any bumper sticker remotely critical of authority is another big winner. If so, the officer in question has learned to cut the creative stuff, and rely on the old “weaving erratically” routine. On second thought, maybe he had a cruiser-cam, in which case, the speed was the only peg he could hang his hat on.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “driving while pierced, bearded and tattooed” may have provoked the stop.

        “Driving while black” may be more like it. Here’s the driver: http://www.bustedmugshots.com/south-carolina/spartanburg/nicholas-carl-davy/20545201 I’ll assume that the passenger who was part of this case was the same race as was the driver.

        I will agree that the impeding traffic claim was a bit of a subterfuge. The cop saw this:

        -Two young black males
        -Driving late at night
        -In a hyper-obedient manner that is not commonly associated with males in that age group

        That combination of factors doesn’t provide much legitimate probable cause to justify the stop. (Informally, the police know that this combination of factors suggests that the driver is driving that slowly because he is trying to avoid being stopped for some other violation, but they can’t hang their hats on that in court.) It is likely that the impeding traffic charge was about all that the cops had to justify the stop.

        The statute that the driver was accused of violating reads as follows:

        56-5-1560. Minimum speed limits: (a) Impeding traffic by slow speed prohibited — No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.

        The appellate court claimed that “The trial court found section 56-5-1560 of the South Carolina Code (2006) does not reference speed limits”. But the section of the statute that I bolded states otherwise — it is not legal to exceed the speed limit, period. The speed limit on this stretch of road was Maximum 60/ Minimum 45, so the speed should not have been an issue, per se.

        In my opinion, both the trial court and the cops were reaching a bit. Fortunately for them, the guy was not driving in the right-hand lane. I would expect that a car driven in this fashion on this same stretch of highway by an elderly woman at 10am would have been completely ignored.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @ppxhbqt: Thanks, you’ve answered a couple of questions I had after I posted.

        It’s been a while since I traveled those roads and I couldn’t remember if that area was widened out to four or more lanes.

        And wow! 45 seems really low if the upper limit is 60!

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    If the posted limit were 65 or 70, this might make sense. But, given that lots of speedos read 5 mph faster than actual vehicle speed (e.g. my Saab, as verified by a GPS uinit), it’s possible that this guy set his cruise control at exactly the posted limit, perhaps in an effort to NOT get busted for speeding (because he knew he was “holding”). Or maybe the guy already had a collection of speeding tickets within the past 3 years and was doing his best to avoid another in so as not to experience either loss of his license or a dramatic rate increase (or cancellation) of his insurance.

    Given the propensity of some jurisdictions, including IIRC, one in South Carolina, of using the speed limit as a handy revenue source the fact that this guy was in compliance with the speed limit, unlike most of the other drivers around him is pretty much irrelevant. Different states have different laws about left-lane banditry. Some states hold that a vehicle exceeding the speed limit does NOT have the right-of-way and thus a driver driving at the limit does not have to pull into another lane to let the speeding driver pass. Others require a vehicle always to yield the lane to a faster vehicle, regardless of that vehicle’s speed in relation to the posted limit.

    The account of the court’s action is not clear on the justification for the police officer’s traffic stop: Did the police officer have a legal justification for stopping the car (i.e. was the driver committing a traffic violation)? If obstructing traffic in the center lane by going less than the speed limit is a traffic violation in South Carolina, then the officer’s traffic stop seems legit. If there is no such traffic offense and the officer just decided to stop the car to have a look-see (maybe thinking the driver was impaired in some way), then it doesn’t seem to me like he had probable cause for stopping the car (absent some other evidence of impairment like weaving from side-to-side, etc.).

    • 0 avatar
      serothis

      Even if there was a law in S.C. like that, there’s a clear 5th amendment violation which protects people from self incrimination. Either you violate law by impeding traffic OR you go drive at the speed of traffic and are in violation of the posted speeding limit. If you are required to violate one law to stay in compliance with another then one of those laws should be invalid.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        there’s a clear 5th amendment violation which protects people from self incrimination. Either you violate law by impeding traffic OR you go drive at the speed of traffic and are in violation of the posted speeding limit.

        None of that has anything to do with the Fifth Amendment.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @serothis: That was the gist of my earlier post. It seems to me that these are contradictory laws, at least as they were enforced in this situation.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Yup none of this has to do at all with the 5th Amendment. Possibly a 14th amendment issue . . . but, really. It’s pretty simple, if the law requires you to move to the right to allow a faster vehicle to pass, regardless of its (or your) speed, then that’s what you gotta do. And, if the law doesn’t require that (i.e. because the faster vehicle is deemed not to have the right-of-way if it is exceeding the posted limit), then you haven’t violated any law by driving 55 in the center lane.

        Which is kinda what I said. Either the cops had probable cause for making a traffic stop of the pothead because he didn’t comply with a legal requirement to yield the lane to faster traffic; or, if there is no such legal requirement in S.C., then there was no probable cause for the traffic stop. Driving 55 in a 60 zone, without more, doesn’t sound like probable cause and, obviously, does not violate the law.

      • 0 avatar
        John Horner

        There seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding about what the 5th Amendment covers!

  • avatar
    Dukeboy01

    Sounds to me like the primary issue was “overcharging” the passenger for possession of the weed and not just charging the driver, whose weed it actually was. In KY it’s a legit way to charge if nobody wants to own up to whose stash it is. Usually presenting the fact that the law allows the officer to do that is enough to get one person or the other to rat out who’s stuff it is, but sometimes they call your bluff…

  • avatar
    GS650G

    I didn’t realize a speed limit was a mandatory minimum. What shall I do when pulling a trailer or similar load? Or don’t I get to drive on the highway because someone might want to do 75 that day>>?

  • avatar
    dvp cars

    ……..conscientious officers who confront slowpokes must face another dilemma…do they intimidate the oldcoot/littleoldlady into speeding up, compliance with which could produce disastrous results….or do they haul the frail and timid dears down to the courthouse, guaranteeing themselves a “bully of the day” ribbing in the post-shift locker room. A sympathetic scolding is probably the answer…….a couple of them, the hint gets taken, and some lucky grandson gets the no-longer-needed jalopy.

  • avatar
    NTI 987

    This is absolutely insane. I hope it gets appealed.

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