Wednesday, August 30, 2017

My nephew was victim of bogus search in Clever, MO, even though SCOTUS found in "Rodriguez" that cops must have reasonable suspicion to extend traffic stops

Blake Shuler
You might think word of U.S. Supreme Court decisions would filter down to all jurisdictions, no matter how small. But they apparently don't make it to Clever, MO. That's how my nephew, Blake Shuler, wound up with a criminal record, as fallout from a traffic stop and unconstitutional search of his vehicle.

Shouldn't the not-so-clever cops in Clever keep up with U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decisions? Yes, they should, but Blake's experience indicates they do not. Clever Municipal Judge Matthew B. Owen certainly should keep up with high-court rulings -- as should any attorney who practices before him, such as Blake's "counsel," David Shuler (my brother) But alas, they don't seem to keep up with them either. Perhaps the cops, the lawyers, and judge simply don't care what the nation's highest court rules -- especially if it runs contrary to their personal beliefs or instincts.

Such stupidity and/or callousness has repercussions for the public. In Blake Shuler's case, it left him with a criminal record he does not deserve. How do we know? A SCOTUS ruling that is barely two years old -- focusing like a laser on the law of traffic stops and vehicle searches -- makes it clear.

First, let me note that this case goes way beyond a family member's experience in a tiny midwestern town. Issues related to traffic are probably the No. 1 reason many Americans come in contact with our "justice system." And what often starts out as an incident that appears likely to end in a ticket or a warning, can suddenly turn much more serious. In fact, Americans probably are most vulnerable to abuse of ignorant or reckless law-enforcement officers when they are driving, or riding in, a vehicle.

Here is some advice from the Legal Schnauzer: Next time you get pulled over by a cop, remember one word: Rodriguez. It tells you much of what you need to know about search of a vehicle.

SCOTUS found in Rodriguez v. U.S. (2015) that "a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures. A seizure justified only by a police-observed traffic violation, therefore, “become[s] unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete th[e] mission” of issuing a ticket for the violation."

The Rodriguez court goes on to hold that extension of the stop beyond its traffic-violation purpose is lawful only if officers have a "reasonable suspicion" that additional criminal activity is associated with the vehicle. From the opinion:

We granted certiorari to resolve a division among lower courts on the question whether police routinely may extend an otherwise-completed traffic stop, absent reasonable suspicion, in order to conduct a dog sniff. . . . [W]ithout additional reasonable suspicion, the officer must allow the seized person to depart once the purpose of the stop has concluded.”

The dog sniff in Rodriguez produced more than 50 grams of methamphetamine, and the driver faced federal drug charges that had him staring at a five-year prison sentence. But SCOTUS found the purpose of the stop involved an officer's observation that Rodriguez had driven on the shoulder of the road. Did the officer have reasonable suspicion of any other criminal activity, beyond the traffic violation? In other words, was there any reason to suspect there were drugs in the vehicle, justifying extension of the stop and a search of the vehicle via a dog sniff?

David Shuler
SCOTUS noted that the district court found "the dog sniff in this case was not independently supported by individualized suspicion" and vacated the Eight Circuit's judgment, sending the case back to lower courts for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. In essence, SCOTUS found that Rodriguez and his passenger should have been allowed to depart once the traffic warning was written. From the opinion:

An officer, in other words, may conduct certain unrelated checks during an otherwise lawful traffic stop. But contrary to JUSTICE ALITO’s suggestion . . .  he may not do so in a way that prolongs the stop, absent the reasonable suspicion ordinarily demanded to justify detaining an individual.

What about Blake Shuler and his passenger, once a breathalyzer test proved he was innocent of DUI? Should they have been allowed to depart, instead of being subjected to a vehicle search? There is nothing in the incident report suggesting police suspected the presence of drugs in the car, or suspected any other criminal activity associated with the car or its passengers. In light of the 2015 Rodriguez case, the cops narrative (see below) strongly suggests they had no "reasonable suspicion," meaning the vehicle search was unlawful.

Did David Shuler pursue that line of defense for Blake? The record indicates he did not, and David is not responding to questions about the matter. But we next will present the questions that were posed to him.

(Previously in this series)

Blake M. Shuler, my nephew, pleads guilty to possession of marijuana and paraphernalia . . . (6/29/17)

My nephew, Blake M. Shuler, faced a harsh lesson of American life . . . (7/26/17)

My nephew got legal help from Missouri lawyer David Shuler . . . (8/23/17)

Recent SCOTUS ruling indicates . . . (8/28/17)

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