U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit Judge Beverly Martin scorched her colleagues for favoring the police over a man illegally detained on a traffic stop in a recent ruling.
In a sharp dissent, Martin said the evidence found on a search of the man’s car was “fruit of the poisonous tree” and should be excluded.
Martin agreed with the other members of the panel on one point: that police unlawfully prolonged a traffic stop. But she disagreed with the majority’s decision to affirm denial of a motion to suppress evidence anyway by giving the state a “good faith exception” that prosecutors didn’t even request.
“I would not put this court in the business of resuscitating arguments the government was made aware of, then clearly abandoned,” Martin said. “In my experience, this court rarely extends the same courtesy to the criminal defendants and pro se litigants who come before us.”
Writing for the majority, Judge Gerald Tjoflat agreed with Martin that a Green County sheriff’s patrolman unlawfully prolonged the Interstate 20 traffic stop of Erickson Campbell at 9 p.m. on a cold night in December 2013. Tjoflat based this conclusion on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015).
While writing a warning for a turn signal blinking too rapidly, the officer told Campbell to get into the patrol car and then asked a series of rambling questions that went on for nearly 20 minutes, according to Tjoflat. The officer asked Campbell where he was going, who he was visiting, where they lived, what the area is like, what type of work he did and whether his car contained any guns, illegally burned CDs, contraband, alcohol, drugs or dead bodies, and would it be alright to search for those things.
Eventually another officer arrived and started searching the car, where they found a gun hidden in the trunk. They then arrested Campbell on a charge of being a felon in possession of a weapon.
However, Tjoflat concluded the search and resulting evidence could be allowed because the patrolman’s “actions were permitted under binding case law at the time.” Thus, Tjoflat said, “the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies.”
Martin noted that Tjoflat was giving the government the benefit of an argument never asserted on appeal. And, she said, Tjoflat declined to give the defense the same kind of favor on a similar issue. She quoted Tjoflat telling the defense lawyer during oral arguments, “We have a hard-and-fast rule in this Circuit. It’s pretty punitive, really. That if you don’t put it in the brief as an issue, we don’t consider it.”
The third member of the panel concurred with Tjoflat: Judge Stephen Murphy III of the Eastern District of Michigan, sitting by designation.
Jonathan Dodson of the federal public defender’s office in Macon argued for the defense. Dodson could not be reached immediately for comment.
Lindsay Feinberg of the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Middle District of Georgia argued for the state.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Leary responded to a request for comment, saying, “We appreciate the majority’s decision affirming the denial of Mr. Campbell’s motion to suppress and clarifying the legal standards for future Fourth Amendment cases involving traffic stops in the Eleventh Circuit.”
The case is USA v. Campbell, No. 16-10128.