Court Tells Deputy He Can't Lie About Reasons For A Traffic Stop And Expect To Keep His Evidence

from the you-can-lie-to-the-citizens.-you-can't-lie-to-the-court. dept

The nation’s courts don’t have a problem with pretextual traffic stops. Any traffic violation — real or imagined — can trigger an investigatory stop. There are limits, of course. The Supreme Court’s Rodriguez decision says officers can’t extend stops past the objective of the stop if reasonable suspicion of additional criminal activity fails to materialize.

It’s perfectly legal to pull someone over for crossing a fog line when all you really want to do is search their vehicle for contraband. But you have to stick to the pretext… at least for the most part. A host of excuses and exceptions (good faith, plain view, “I smelled marijuana,” etc.) salvage most stops-turned-searches but if a defendant can show the stop itself was bogus, all bets are off.

This short federal court decision [PDF] ordered the suppression of evidence obtained during a pretextual stop, and calls out a sheriff’s deputy for lying about the reason for the stop, one that resulted in the discovery of drugs and weapons. (via The Newspaper)

According to the police narrative, a stop was performed on Cedric Gordon’s vehicle because his rear license plate wasn’t properly illuminated.

In his narrative, Deputy Forbert maintains that he attempted to read the vehicle’s license tag number but was unable to do so because the vehicle’s tag lights were out. Deputy Forbert followed the Defendant’s vehicle for approximately two minutes, or one-half mile, before initiating the traffic stop because the tag lights were out. After initiating the traffic stop, Deputy Forbert approached the Defendant’s vehicle and claims he smelled marijuana coming from the vehicle. Deputy Forbert ran the vehicle’s tag number and the Defendant’s criminal history came back positive. Deputy Forbert subsequently arrested the Defendant and the vehicle was searched, revealing a firearm and controlled substances.

This story might have held up anywhere but in court, where actual evidence needs to be presented. Gordon presented his, which included photos of his vehicle during the traffic stop — photos that clearly showed his rear license plate was illuminated.

Faced with actual evidence, Deputy Forbert began backtracking on his original testimony, covering up his lies with more lies. The court details the Forbert’s attempts to move the goalposts.

At the hearing on this Motion [14], Deputy Forbert repeatedly contradicted the statements contained in his narrative and provided implausible testimony regarding the reasonable suspicion he had at the time of initiating the traffic stop. For example, Deputy Forbert’s narrative stated that he initiated the traffic stop because the vehicle’s tag lights were not working, but when questioned by the Court, Deputy Forbert admitted that the Defendant’s tag lights were working on the night in question. Instead, Deputy Forbert explained that he initiated the traffic stop because the Defendant’s license tag was not illuminated brightly enough. Deputy Forbert claimed that he was unable to read the darkened tag from fifty feet away, as required under the statute. When questioned further by the Court, Deputy Forbert maintained that the tag was too dimly lit to read even forty feet away. However, Deputy Forbert eventually admitted at the hearing that he was able to see that the tag lights were in fact working and that the tag was illuminated once he stopped the vehicle.

With the license plate story destroyed, Deputy Forbert tried to bring in a new set of goalposts. The court wants nothing to do with them.

The Government also argues that even if the Defendant’s tag lights were working properly, Deputy Forbert had reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop because the seatbelt violation alone was sufficient to justify the stop. At the suppression hearing, Deputy Forbert stated that he intended to perform a traffic stop for a seatbelt violation, contrary to the narrative he prepared the day of the traffic stop. Deputy Forbert maintained that he had reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop because he was able to see the passenger attempting to put her seatbelt on through the tinted windows. However, when questioned by the Court, Deputy Forbert admitted that the windows were darkly tinted and stated that he did not actually view the passenger without her seatbelt on. Based on the evidence and testimony presented at the hearing on this matter, the Court finds the evidence of a seatbelt violation unconvincing.

In other words, the court believes the officer is lying. Of course, it’s never phrased this way, but a court stating it does not find an officer’s testimony credible is about as close to calling them a liar as a federal court will ever get. The end result is the suppression of evidence, the only thing supporting Cedric Gordon’s conviction. Without the gun and drugs, all the government’s left with is what it had to begin with: a vehicle with properly-illuminated license plates.

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Comments on “Court Tells Deputy He Can't Lie About Reasons For A Traffic Stop And Expect To Keep His Evidence”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not just lying

All Cops LIE, and they do nothing buy LIE!!! They make up laws that don’t exist. Or pull out generic laws to force YOU to do what they want. They will flat out LIE!! But if you say anything, it can and will be used in the court of law.

You really shouldn’t say anything to the police!!! Some will, in fact, tell you this!!! Keep quiet. Keep your hands on the wheel where they can see them as they walk up. Roll down the window just enough to pass your drivers license and other things when they ask. Keep your answers short. Refuse to let them search your car, even when you have nothing to hide.

ALways good to have a working Dashcam, and one that points both the front and back is better. Especially if it records audio, big plus as if can be recording everything they are saying to you. That way when they LIE in court, you have proof. For whatever reason, courts believe lying police. I really don’t think they’re any better than a real criminal with facts.

You want to learn something, watch thing Video, Part One and then watch Part 2. Learn a little something!!!!

Jonathan Sherrill says:

Re: Re: Not just lying

They can lie to you, making a stop. They cannot lie in court without consequence. Any future testimony this officer makes is prone to having the defense attorney bringing up this testimony as an example of how his word cannot be trusted. It ruins the normal presumption of accuracy cops get.

Rukbat (profile) says:

Re: Not just lying

At least, in the future, Forbert’s credibility can be called into question, if not having his testimony thrown out completely since the court has already found him capable of testimony that’s not credible. He can still have a career with the police department – in vehicle maintenance, clerical work, anything that won’t bear on the guilt or innocence of anyone. (Or he can move to another state, where he can apply to another department and claim that, during his tenure with the department in Mississippi he was doing “this and that”.)

But we all know that’s not a happening thing – he;ll make more questionable stops and defendants less knowledgeable than Cedric Gordon will be found guilty.

Herman Nelson says:

Re: Not just lying

Of course they do and so do the courts. Short story- I was picked for jury duty. I was called in to fill a jury pool. I was handed a questionnaire by the court clerk to fill out before starting. The last question on the sheet- “If you were given testimony by a law enforcement officer, would you find it honest and truthful?”. I wrote NO (the police lie and so do judges). Upon handing in the questionnaire, I and several other jurors were called out and were dismissed from the rest of our jury duty period. When we walked out, I asked everybody who was dismissed “how did you answer the last question? yes or no?”. Every one of them said “no”. If this is going on in one obscure court house, where else is it going on?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Then you get popped for ‘driving too slow’. I’ve learned that drivers who are driving below the speed limit”

How is one supposed to be doing the speed limit when there are thousands of vehicles in front of you that are not? Do you even commute?

The typical commute consists of doing the speed that everyone else is doing in front of you because it is bumper to bumper from here to eternity – some folk leave some room between vehicles because it is a wise thing to do. Slowing down a bit in order to attain said room is not going to net you a ticket – what a stupid thing to say.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s not just the CHP. I live north of Seattle and had an officer pull this trick. It started with me trying to pass somebody who was going under the speed limit, who then sped up as I tried to pass them and matched my speed no matter what I tried to do. Then a cop came up behind me and was so close I could see nothing but their windshield in my rearview mirror. Unable to pull over to the left because there was a barrier, unable to pull over to the right because there was a car matching my every move, and unable to slow down because if I slowed even a tiny bit the police car would hit me, I was forced to speed up to get out of the officer’s way. Immediately, so fast the cop HAD to have had his finger on the switch WAITING for it to happen, on comes the lights. I got a ticket for speeding, and in court it was determined that everything else was irrelevant, since I DID speed I was responsible for the ticket.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: "You know, other than the fact that I had no other option..."

I must heartily commend you for not walking out of that case with a contempt of court fine/penalty in addition to the speeding one, because I’m not sure I’d have been able to restrain myself from asking(likely rather sarcastically) if the judge would have been fine with me staying in the left lane in that situation, all other options having been eliminated, or if that would have been acceptable grounds for a ticket too.

All three of the other people in your story were idiots. The one refusing to let you pass, the cop tailgating dangerously close, and the judge for whom ‘context’ was too difficult a concept for them to grasp.

That One Guy (profile) says:

The good, the bad, and the twisting the knife

It’s good that the court found that an officer repeatedly lying under oath made the resulting search illegal, and tossed the case.

It’s bad that such a thing happening is not even remotely surprising at this point.

And it’s twisting the knife being all but certain that other than costing the department a legal win the officer in question will likely face absolutely zero penalties for their actions(in court or out), such that they and others will be free to try again in the future, though perhaps being a little more careful about the lies they tell.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The good, the bad, and the twisting the knife

Those defendants are going to have to watch out.

Once this officer gets back from his PAID suspension in the Bahamas, the defendant will be shot in the back from 100 foot away due to the combined offences of “contempt of cop” “makin’ me look foolish” and “I thought it was a black man coming right fer me”

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

I thought the rule was one lie.

Juries are informed that if a witness is caught in one lie then it is acceptable to distrust anything else he / she says.

If a police officer lies once, then not only should his testimony be distrusted, but he should be charged with perjury. His job should depend on him telling the truth in court at all times.

That this isn’t the case should serve as evidence to challenge the legitimacy of the court.

Panda Kahn (profile) says:

Well, at least he can't loose his job!

So how many people are outraged over the idea of the guy not being able to keep his evidence and loosing the case, but not over the fact that he can commit perjury but it won’t cost him his job?

One might think that perjury before a court as a sworn law officer would at least carry the same penalties as perjury if you were just an average defendant.

Personanongrata says:

Today's Episode of Rule of Man or Rule of Law

There are limits, of course. The Supreme Court’s Rodriguez decision says officers can’t extend stops past the objective of the stop if reasonable suspicion of additional criminal activity fails to materialize.

How does a traffic violation equate to criminal activity?

According to the Supreme Court so long as law enforcement’s fishing expedition (ie tyranny) is light and transient it is A-OK to harass any/all persons they decide to encounter based wholly upon a law enforcement officer’s arbitrary pretext of the moment.

When a law enforcement officer uses an arbitrary pretext to stop and harass any/all persons they decide to encounter is that:

Rule of Man?


Rule of Law?

What good is a Bill of Rights if law enforcement can circumvent the various limits placed upon their actions with federal/state courts aiding/abetting the tyranny?

Cedric Gordon was forced to play jurisprudence roulette with his money and his liberty in order to fend off the tyranny of law enforcement’s arbitrary pretextual stop.

This time the court decided in favor of liberty but alas the court could have easily decided to quash Cedric’s motion to suppress the evidence gained during law enforcement’s fishing expedition thus paving the way for some possible jail time.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Rule of Man or Rule of Law

It’s all rule of man.

Laws are not enforced consistently. Laws are not prosecuted consistently. Prosecutorial discretion is an accepted norm in the United States.

Oh and then an officer can arrest you for what he believes is a law. Psychology, law enforcement officers decide first whether you’re a good guy or a bad guy, and if he chooses the latter, he looks for something to book you for.

So no, it’s never rule of law in the United States of America.

norahc (profile) says:

“Deputy Forbert ran the vehicle’s tag number and the Defendant’s criminal history came back positive. Deputy Forbert subsequently arrested the Defendant and the vehicle was searched, revealing a firearm and controlled substances.”

Ummmm…so he arrested the driver for having a criminal history and then searched the vehicle, finding the weapon and drugs?

What was he originally arrested for in order to justify the search?

stderric (profile) says:

Deputy Forbert: His tag lights were out. I mean dim! Umm… kinda a little dim? Definitely dim. OK, they were fine, but, errr… His passenger wasn’t wearing a seatbelt? Yeah! Not wearing a seatbelt. Probably. I mean, maybe, maybe not, I couldn’t tell ’til after the stop, but, umm, yeah.

Judge [to court stenographer]: Let the transcript reflect the fact that I’ve facepalmed my way to major cranial trauma… And please call 911 when you get a chance, thanks.

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