Early last month, the United States District Court for the District of Arizona issued an opinion about whether driving slowly in the fast lane constituted reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop. FourthAmendment.com wrote about the opinion a few days ago in a post entitled “D.Ariz.: Driving less than the speed limit in the left lane was RS for stop.”
Curious, I looked up the case and read the facts. An officer was patrolling the three lanes of westbound traffic on I-10 in Tucson when he saw a pickup truck in the far-left lane going under the 65 mile-per-hour speed limit. The officer noticed other cars were slowing behind the black pickup and passing it in the center lane. When the speed limit increased to 75 miles per hour, the officer paced the truck, which stayed in the far left lane going 60 to 65 miles per hour. The officer gave the truck plenty of opportunity to move into the right-hand lane, but vehicles continued to pass it on the right. Two cars had to slow behind the truck. The officer eventually initiated a traffic stop and saw five undocumented immigrants hiding in the back seat.
The opinion is about whether the officer had reasonable suspicion for the stop, and the magistrate recommends the court find he did. Honestly, though, that isn’t what matters to me. This is the type of case I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.
I know plenty of defense lawyers who won’t represent defendants in certain types of cases because they find the subject matter disturbing. They’re usually bothered by sex crimes or crimes against children, and they don’t take those cases because they can’t set aside their personal feelings and properly represent the client. For me, this is that type of case. It strikes far too close to home for me to look at the facts and fully consider the legal issues. Emotions get in the way. I just couldn’t represent the driver, and it isn’t because I care about whether he was smuggling humans or not. The problem is that the evidence suggests he was going under the speed limit in the left lane.
Here in Arizona, we’re all about highways. We have high speed limits, though not quite high enough, and lots of lanes, though still far fewer than we need. Highways connect everything. It’s a big state, and the only way most people get from one point to another is by driving. I occasionally feel like I’m more of a driver than a lawyer. It’s rare for me to travel less than 250 miles in a week. Often, I have to drive two or three times that much.
Nothing ruins a pleasant drive through the desert quite like some idiot in a beat-up truck going under the speed limit in the left lane. I’ve lost countless hours of productivity, perhaps days of my life if you add it all up, to people going way too slow in the left lane. As much as the criminal defense lawyer in me wants to see a motion to suppress granted, the driver in me wants to see someone punished for driving too slow in the passing lane. In this instance, the driver in me wins.
I find the opinion disturbing because of the callousness with which the court addresses the defendant’s abominable driving. This is no mere swerve over a marked line. This isn’t extreme speeding or an expired tag. Those things don’t really affect anyone. This moron had three beautiful, wide, newly-paved lanes in which to travel. He was on the fourth-longest highway in the country in a major metropolitan area. The monumental stupidity of his decision to pick the left-most lane in which to travel under the speed limit defies belief. Whatever punishment he gets for smuggling isn’t nearly enough to provide retributive justice for the heinous and unforgivable crime of going too slow in the far left lane.
You wouldn’t see a news article saying “Man stopped fleeing scene after murdering family, officer finds he is unable to provide proof of insurance.” Why do we care about a bunch of guys hunkered down in the backseat catching a ride to Phoenix? The defendant could’ve had a semi-trailer full of people and I wouldn’t care. They could be sitting on bales of marijuana carrying fully-automatic assault rifles. I wouldn’t bat an eyelash. Who cares? Not me, that’s for sure.
What has this world come to when we think that a victimless crime like smuggling humans is the greater harm based on those facts? How twisted must our priorities be for us to think that a dangerously slow driver in the left lane should be punished not for leaving numerous innocent and utterly helpless motorist-victims in his slow wake, but rather for being found to have some buddies in the backseat when he’s stopped?
We need to wake up. We’ve really lost sight of what matters. For shame.
Filed under: Arizona Cases, immigration, Search and Seizure · Tags: district of arizona, fourth amendment, illegals, magistrate, morales, probable cause, reasonable suspicion, search, seizure, undocumented