In recent legal news we have another serial criminal police officer, Texas State Trooper Jared Snelgrooes, and another team of prosecutors fighting against your civil rights.
The aforementioned officer has a habit of pulling over cars because they are clean. (Thanks to thenewspaper.com for recent coverage and leagle.com for an older case.) He knows he’s not supposed to write a ticket for driving with a clean car. What he does is pass the car and try to force the driver to move right and touch the edge line. Then he makes a traffic stop for driving on the shoulder.
It could have been me. I’ve driven across Texas on I-40 in a clean car with out of state plates carefully obeying the speed limit, which makes me a drug courier. I must have picked a day he was off duty.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had enough and voted 6-3 that his excuse didn’t hold up.
Under Texas law it’s legal to drive on the shoulder to let another car pass. Texas Transportation Code 545.058(a)(5). It’s also legal to drive on the shoulder if the car passing you is trying to force you onto the shoulder. 545.058(a)(7). And it’s not illegal to touch the white line, it’s illegal to cross the line and drive on the shoulder. And finally, Trooper Snelgrooes had no way to know whether the car touched the white line on the right. He was on the left side of the car trying to provoke a traffic violation. He couldn’t see the right tires.
In a state where the legal system worked the decision would have upheld Trooper Snelgrooes’ conviction for civil rights violation. But the system doesn’t work. The opinion ruled that the driver whose rights he violated was entitled to have evidence suppressed. That’s all. The only consequence to police officers is that the script for a pretext stop needs to be revised a little.
Why didn’t the DA go after the armed and dangerous career criminal? Maybe nobody asked him to. DAs are treated like a force of nature rather than elected officials. Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham wrote about Massachusetts District Attorneys who run unopposed: “These 11 people have the power to change thousands of lives, for better and for worse. Isn’t it time we started paying closer attention to them?”
If a few hundred county voters contacted their prosecutor and asked why he was supporting civil rights violations, he might start to think. You might have to explain what a civil rights violation is. It’s more than beating up a black guy while shouting racial slurs. Unreasonable search and seizure is a civil rights violation too.
While we wait for prosecutors to do their job, there are some legislative and policy solutions to take them out of the picture.
One is to put officers personally at risk for money judgments. I wrote about a Kansas police officer with a history of civil rights violations. The state paid for the officer’s crime. If I intentionally run somebody over my insurance won’t do me much good, but if a police officer intentionally hurts somebody the state will back him up.
After I cause a car accident I can’t afford, a little-known law kicks in. I lose my license until I pay for the damage I caused. What if an unpaid judgment for a civil rights violation revoked an officer’s badge?
Or what if a government or insurance payout for a civil rights claim were a firing offense without recourse to arbitration? That would never fly around here, where police unions have too much power, but it might work elsewhere.
What if a class action lawsuit obtained a court order instructing a police officer not to violate civil rights? The next victim could ask the judge to hold the officer in contempt and the prosecutor couldn’t do anything about it.
The Texas case might have been ordinary police work aiming for a conviction. Many of these pretext stops are revenue raising for the police department by way of asset forfeiture. A Missouri lawmaker thinks he has a way to stop that. I’ll write about that next week.
The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.