A prosecutorial team might be wishing in hindsight that it never followed through with a criminal case that is now being held up to some ridicule in the national press. Although that matter relates to an Ohio traffic stop and drug arrest, we spotlight its main details here for Missouri readers to underscore instructive points it makes concerning the important criminal law principle of probable cause.
Here is its bottom line: They stopped the car because it was allegedly dirty.
More specifically, an Ohio police team focusing on traffic flow alerted on a rental car, owing to the belief of one of the officers that such vehicles are often used by criminals to transport drugs. Their excuse for stopping it was that it was dirty, implying it was a longer-term rental being used for illegal purposes. The officers also claimed that the driver was tailgating.
A federal appeals court was clearly less than enthused in its review of the case and the driver’s felony conviction on possession of cocaine (the officers did indeed find an amount of that drug during a search of the vehicle). The court’s ruling addressing the car’s less-than-clean appearance as being justification for pulling the driver over was caustic and direct.
“If that’s the threshold by which traffic stops are made, then we’re all in jeopardy,” the court stated. The panel also rejected the tailgating claim after viewing police dashcam evidence. It ruled that the evidence seized was inadmissible.