Brown & Little, P.L.C. » Arizona Cases, immigration, Search and Seizure » The Greater Harm

The Greater Harm

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: , , , , , , , , ,

4 Responses to "The Greater Harm"

  1. Kevin says:

    This piece is sarcastic as hell!

    Unfortunately, most people don’t get sarcasm, particularly when it is written.

    The facts suggest that the driver may have been driving prudently by being in the left lane, even if he didn’t drive the speed limit. If cars are passing on the right, then one could assume that it would have been dangerous for the driver to move from the left lane.

    Also, a reasonable person tends to drive a prudent speed, regardless of the speed limit. An old truck may never be safe at 75 miles per hour.

    Lastly, anyone who slows down because they are being tailed by a cop now can be pulled over under such an expansion of reasonable suspicion. It seems completely reasonable to drive at a speed lower than the speed limit but still fast enough so as not to be a safety threat on the highway when law enforcement is driving behind you.

  2. shg says:

    My Aunt Gert, 4’2″ tall, driving the longest Cadillac Fleetwood they made in 1967, always drove in the left lane, and never drove over 35 mph. “That’s fast enough,” she always said.

    It was eventually cured by electroshock therapy at Mt. Sinai Hospital, and the refusal of gas stations across New Jersey to allow her to fuel up, given her tendency to drive away with the nozzle still in the gas tank. She always drove away slowly.

    1. frieda406 says:

      I have a friend from boston who, while in college, was stopped on a highway in the Boston area. The friend had smoked an illegal substance before getting in the car. The inquiring officer ask was what speed did he think he was driving. He replied, “why, the speed limit, 65″. “No”, said the officer, you were going 30mph”. Classic. He is cut from the same jib as your GM, only for other reasons at the time.

  3. Phil says:

    Matt,

    I couldn’t agree more! Your post got me thinking about the German autobahns within a half-hour of where I live. There you can get fined for driving slowly in the fast lane, if you’re not run over first by Hanz in a Beemer going 150 m.p.h. The law on the autobahn is that you can drive as fast as you want, but if you have an accident going over the posted limit, then your insurance won’t cover you. ‘Seems like a reasonable free market solution.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_autobahns

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