Jim Terry
June 15, 2010
Whoa there, Texans!
By Jim Terry

We crossed into Indiana and passed through Gary. The town was founded in the early twentieth century by United States Steel and has produced a number of notable and diverse Americans: Tony Zale, tough guy and twice world middleweight boxing champion; Paul Samuelson, economist and Nobel Prize winner; Frank Borman, Commander of Apollo 8 and former CEO of Eastern Airlines; and the Jackson family.

Late in the afternoon, somewhere along IH 65 headed toward Indianapolis, we passed two police cars huddled in the median. We thought nothing of this (my son-in-law- was driving the speed limit) until a few miles along the way he noticed a law enforcement vehicle approach and the colored lights began flashing. It was one of the cars we had passed several miles back.

Son-in-law pulled onto the shoulder of the highway; I took his insurance card from the glove box. He readied his driver license and we waited for the officer. I was startled when the officer approached and tapped on my passenger-side window. While I fumbled with the window button, he squinted through the tinted window at the suspects in the back seat: three-year-old NattyNic, snugged in her booster seat, a sippy cup in its holder, and her notorious grandmother, holding a DVD player in her lap.

We wondered if the sippy cup filled with apple juice was a violation of Indiana's open container law, or if a section of the Indiana Highway Code prohibited the consumption of cookies by juvenile vehicle occupants while the vehicle is in operation on a public highway or thoroughfare.

"Hello, I'm Officer @#*X8, with the *&^)* County Sheriff Department. Is this your car?" the young, bald officer asked with one of those 'I'm here to help you' smiles. He was friendly, although he seemed a bit unsure of himself. "I didn't see a sticker on your license plate and I couldn't get a hit on the computer. Do you have registration papers?" Son-in-law stabbed the windshield with his finger, "No, this sticker in the front window is our registration in Texas."

Once again, the officer asked, "But this is your vehicle?"

"Yes, we are not required to carry our vehicle titles in Texas."

"May I see your driver's license and insurance information? Where are you headed?"

"Columbus, Ohio," son-in-law replied and handed off the requested information.

The officer looked up from the documents, "What's in Columbus?"

"I'm going to an alumni meeting at my law school."

The officer took a couple of swallows, but his dry mouth look told the story. Then, he cracked wise with, "So, you are a lawyer. Are you a good lawyer?"

As a former judge I questioned in my mind the officer's reason for the stop because he had no probable cause for the stop. And it had become evident, by the officer's demeanor, he knew he had stepped into a possible pile of mess. I decided to prod the officer with the answer to his question, "Well, he is a criminal defense lawyer, if that is what you mean."

The officer now had one of those apologetic smiles like our three-year-old NattyNic gets when she says, "I didn't do it." He turned and said, "I'll be right back. Since I stopped you, I have to give you a warning."

He returned and handed me the printed warning which affirmed my view: "no probable cause, no sticker on plate."

The fourth amendment to our constitution says:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Over the years, our Fourth Amendment has been adapted by courts to include the lesser standard of reasonable suspicion, especially in traffic stops. Reasonable suspicion means that the officer has sufficient knowledge to believe that criminal activity is at hand.

In our case, the officer had neither probable cause, nor reasonable suspicion for the stop.

What our Texas connection had profited us the day before in Illinois now seemed a liability in Indiana.

Texas friends, be careful driving through Indiana. You may be stopped by the police because of your Texas license plates. I have wondered about that traffic stop each day since our return and have concluded the following: the officer was new at his job and doesn't know about probable cause or reasonable suspicion-in that case, bad training; he had never seen anyone from Texas and wanted to see where we were carrying our horse; or, perhaps he thought he had a bust on a carload of illegal aliens since Texas is a major pipeline for illegal foreign entrants.

Thank goodness we didn't have Arizona license plates.

Next: Cinco de What?

© Jim Terry

 

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Jim Terry

Jim Terry has worked in Republican grassroots politics for 40 years. Terry was an administrative assistant to a Republican elected official in Dallas for twenty years. In 1996, he ran for and was elected to Justice Court 2 in Dallas County where he served eight years. Contact Jim at tr4guy@flash.net

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