Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Good and The Bad

Howard Pincus, a federal public defender in Denver, won in U.S. v. Laughrin, 04-2207 (10th Cir. March 2, 2006), overturning federal weapons charges from New Mexico. The police officer saw Mr. Laughrin at a gas station and had had 10 prior contacts with him for traffic violations, including driving on a suspended license on more than one occassion, and other warrants; these contacts were at least 22 weeks in the past. The officer said he followed Mr. Laughrin for about a half mile and then stopped him. The officer admitted he had observed no violations that day, but stopped him based on his driving record.

The Tenth Circuit found the stop improper:
It might be argued that Officer Riley had reasonable suspicion to stop Mr. Laughrin based not on his criminal history of driving without a valid license, but on the ongoing violation of driving without a valid license--that Mr. Laughrin was still engaged in the same offense that he had been stopped for before. But whether it is reasonable to believe that Mr. Laughrin has continued to drive without a license depends on the length of time since he was last found to be driving without a license. Other circuits have upheld stops for driving without a license based on the officer's knowledge that the motorist had no valid license a week before, United States v. Hope, 906 F.2d 254, 258 (7th Cir. 1990), or 22 days earlier, United States v. Sandridge, 385 F.3d 1032, 1036 (6th Cir. 2004). Twenty-two days is significantly less than 22 weeks. Had Officer Riley testified to the length of the prior suspension, we might be able to affirm the district court's determination that he had reasonable suspicion. Otherwise, however, Officer Riley's information was too stale to justify stopping Mr. Laughrin on the belief that a suspension was still in effect.
Good analysis.

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