In Graham Greene’s “Our Man in Havana,” the villainous Captain Segura casually refers to “the torturable classes,” people with no recourse against police oppression.
In New York, we have the stoppable classes: the daily targets of police misuse of traffic laws. (Barry Kamins, “The Constable Blunders: Mistakes of Law vs. Facts,” Aug. 12).
As always, Judge Kamins gives invaluable guidance through the intricacies of search and seizure law. Interestingly, the cases he cites show not only that the constable blundered, but that the constable lied. Or, as the courts so delicately put it, tailored his testimony to meet constitutional objections.
Mr. Thomas was not stopped because the police misconstrued the Taxi and Limousine Commission Rules. People v. Thomas, 185 Misc.2d 112 (Sup.Ct. N.Y. Co. 2000). He was stopped because he looked at the police with “eyes opened widely,” made unspecified “motions” and rolled up the window.
Mr. Ayala was not stopped because the police mistakenly believed there was a law against driving while texting, but because he was with a man they were watching. People v. Abdul-Akim, 2010 WL 1856007 (Sup. Ct. Kings Co. 2010).
Mr. Rose was not stopped because the police misread the law as prohibiting the flashing of headlights but because this is a signal drivers use to warn other drivers of police on the highway. People v. Rose, 67 A.D.3d 1447 (4th Dept. 2009).
In sum, the mistakes of law were not the basis for the stop but for the post hoc justification.
The lesson to the constable is: keep your tailoring simple and stick to alleging unsignaled lane changes.
The author is staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society.