So the thing that prompted me to write this was reading a letter in the local hometown newsrag, praising the actions of one Officer Robert Powell of the Dallas Police Department.
It would seem that the bully with the badge decided that emergency flashers, stopping to make sure traffic had cleared before proceeding through a red light, and being A BLOCK AWAY FROM THE HOSPITAL wasn't enough...nor were the corroboration of his victim's "excuse" by hospital staff and other police officers. He still felt the need to flex his badge a bit, interjecting such "attitude adjustments" as threatening to arrest his victim for "fleeing", telling his victim how he could "screw you over", and threatening to tow his car. Every time I see this video, I just get angry.
Because of his actions, this police officer caused a man to be in a parking lot instead of at his wife's side at the moment his mother died.
This is what prompted my writing of not only this blog, but also letters to my elected state representatives...urging them to do away the authority of a Licensed Peace Officer to arrest anyone for a traffic violation when the legally proscribed punishment for a conviction of that violation cannot result in confinement.
Under Texas law, there are only TWO moving violations that you cannot be arrested for...one is speeding (below a speed that is legally considered "reckless driving"), and for having an open container of an "alcoholic beverage" as defined by the state penal code.
Yes, in the state of Texas, you really can be taken to jail for running a red light. Or failure to come to a complete stop. Or not having a license plate light. Or not utilizing a turn signal. Or not wearing a seat belt. Or any other Class-C misdemeanor violation of the myriad regulations found within our Texas Transportation Code.
Of course, in the majority of instances, a person getting pulled over for not using a blinker is NOT taken to jail for that offense...and they shouldn't be. However, the LEGAL AUTHORITY TO DO SO is present, and I have personally been exposed to this on several occasions.
In the state of Texas (as in every other state in the Union), it is ILLEGAL to search a vehicle without the owner's consent or probable cause to do so. Running a red light, or committing any other traffic violation, is not probable cause to do so. However, if you "look suspicious" (i.e. have green hair, are blaring N.W.A. records as loud as your car stereo will play them, display a bumper sticker reading "Fear the Government that Fears Your Gun", et cetera), the police can and will circumvent your fourth amendment rights by ALLEGING a traffic violation and threatening you with arrest.
You know that saying "You can beat the rap, but you can't beat the ride!"? That's essentially what's happening here. In the case of a minor traffic violation, you stand about a 50/50 chance of beating a traffic citation in court, if you request your constitutional right to a trial by jury if there's no recording of the offense...because it's your word against the officer. HOWEVER, you can still be taken to jail for the offense.
That's where the whole "Contempt of Cop" issue comes into play. Take, for example, a young man driving a faded old S.U.V. through the middle of Anytown, USA. He's seen by a policeman as he rounds a corner. The young man has spiked green hair, he's displaying anti-government stickers on the back of his vehicle, he has a loaded pistol-grip shotgun sitting in the back seat, and his stereo is playing the most awesome punk rock music in the land.
Cop: "Do you know why I pulled you over?"
Kid: "I haven't got a clue, sir...but I bet you can tell me!"
Cop: "When you rounded that corner, you didn't use a blinker."
Kid: "I most certainly did, sir...as a matter of fact, I didn't turn hard enough, and had to manually turn my signal off."
Cop: "I'm not talking about that corner. I'm talking about when you pulled out of that alley."
Kid: "Is there any reason why you waited three blocks to hit your lights?"
Cop: "Step out of the vehicle, sir."
Kid: "Is there any reason why I need to exit my vehicle, officer?"
Cop: "Yes, there is. Last weekend, I observed this vehicle following a minivan owned by a man known to traffic cocaine in this town. How much cocaine do you have on you tonight?" (I STILL have never tried cocaine, and at this point, hadn't even ever seen it!)
Kid: "I don't have any cocaine on me, sir. I don't use illegal drugs...my employer gives me random urine tests."
Cop: "That doesn't mean anything to me. How much marijuana have you smoked tonight?" (I hadn't even SEEN marijuana in six months, much less been smoking any of it.)
Kid: "None, sir. How much have you smoked tonight?"
Cop: "I don't use drugs. I'm a police officer!"
Kid: "I run a 7" grinder for a living. What's your point?"
Cop: "Cops don't use drugs. Why do you have this shotgun in your truck?"
Kid: "For the same reason you have that Glock 9mm strapped to your waist. I feel threatened when people get too close."
Cop: "Do you mind if I do a quick search through your truck?"
Kid: "Actually, I do. I'm late for a dinner party. If you're going to ticket me for not using a blinker, can I have my ticket and be on my way?"
Cop: "You've got two choices...either you can sit there on the curb while I search your vehicle, or you can go to jail for failure to signal prior to leaving a private driveway...and if you go to jail, you'll have to make bond, get your truck out of impound, and I'm going to have to 'inventory' your vehicle anyway. The choice is yours."
Kid: "Go ahead, I'm not hiding anything!"
And yes, this actually DID happen to me...summer of 2000, leaving Paradise Sports Bar in Angleton, TX on a friday afternoon. Less than an hour after getting off work, I was followed for several blocks, and then pulled over in the parking lot of the gas station of Anderson and SH35. As I sat on that curb waiting for Officer Asshole to finish violating my 4th Amendment rights, three of his buddies showed up. They all gave me the same song and dance..."stand up and take a field sobriety test". "This gun looks stolen!" (as if something can "look" stolen?). "Where's your cocaine at?". "How much pot have you smoked tonight?".
They spent at least half an hour ripping apart my 1988 baby blue Dodge Ramcharger completely apart, they took turns individually calling in the serial number to my Mossberg to ensure that it merely "looked" stolen (but wasn't actually stolen, since it has BATFE papers IN MY NAME!), giving me field sobriety tests, threatening to arrest me for "felony posession of a weapon" because I had a softball bat in the back of the truck (completely oblivious to the ball and glove, apparently), and treating me like a criminal in general...EVEN THOUGH I HAD DONE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG.
Many people may realize that taking away the authority to arrest for a minor traffic offense will only lead to wrongful arrest of more serious crimes, much like taking away Tasers will likely lead to more wrongful police shootings...and they'd probably be right. Take away the right to do something that annoys, inconveniences, or causes extreme but non-permanent pain, and you force a policeman to undergo more intense scrutiny for his actions. If a cop tasers someone, it probably won't make the news unless it's at a sitting senator's speech. If a cop shoots someone, it's on the front page and it makes people wonder why it happened. If you arrest someone for running a red light, it's nothing drastic. Arrest someone for assaulting an officer (even if the charge is BULLSHIT), the facts play out in court. The cop WILL be forced to answer for his actions.
What is my justification for this suggestion? It's quite simple, really. My arrest record is rather lengthy...and aside from an underage drinking charge, they've all been for traffic offenses and/or failure to pay for them. On the Consumption By Minor charge, the cop called my deceased brother a "punk bastard", and I told him he'd better call for backup if he was going to talk to me that way...and I'm rather proud of that stint in jail! The rest of them have ranged from 10 minutes to 25 hours in jail, and are merely what I'd call a "minor inconvenience" in the grand scheme of things.
However, most occasions were met with "well, you shouldn't have acted like a jackass" or "you need to be practical, instead of principled." And to that, I say BULLSHIT. If rights can be coerced away, they aren't rights. They are PRIVILEGES.
My first amendment right says I can say what I want, when I want it, without legal repercussion. People may not want to associate with me, they may not buy what I'm selling, et cetera...but they don't have the authority to throw me in jail merely because of what I say.
My fourth amendment right says my person, papers, and effects are to be secure from search and/or seizure without a court order...and the SCOTUS has routinely ruled that this does include my automobile.
My fifth amendment right says I am not compelled to testify against myself.
However, for as long as a policeman is authorized to arrest me for not using a turn signal, he may ALLEGE that I have broken a minor traffic law, and use such an infraction as a tool to coerce you into waiving your constitutional rights. He can tell you that you can have your rights, but you'll be enjoying them in jail...not because you've been actually convicted of anything, but because he SAID you didn't come to a complete stop at that stop sign.
Do your part. Demand justice when you've seen injustice. Write your congressman. Tell him that rights are for EVERY MAN, WOMAN, AND CHILD...not just for those who DIDN'T piss off a cop today. And last but certainly not least, if this kind of thing happens to you...MAKE SOME GODDAMNED NOISE! Tell everyone about it. Tell 'em who did it to you, including name of the officer AND the department. Call the officer's supervisor. Raise some hell. Write to the editor of your local paper. When you see a cop, be courteous, and thank them for not being an asshole like his colleague was. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
With that, I'm out for the evening. Be good to yourselves and be good to each other.