N.D.Miss.: Officer’s credibility on cause for stop fails because the tag light was working and he couldn’t see in car

Officer’s testimony varied sufficiently from his reports of his reasonable suspicion for the stop and detention that it’s just unreliable. Motion to suppress granted. It apparently started with the justification for the stop as inoperable tag lights [how many times have we heard that?], but he admitted in testimony that it was working after shown a photograph. Then the windows were so tinted that he couldn’t see the passenger he claimed he saw had no seatbelt on. United States v. Gordon, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 177610 (N.D. Miss. Oct. 16, 2018):

At the hearing on this Motion, Deputy Forbert repeatedly contradicted the statements contained in his narrative and provided implausible testimony regarding the reasonable suspicion he had at the time of initiating the traffic stop. For example, Deputy Forbert’s narrative stated that he initiated the traffic stop because the vehicle’s tag lights were not working, but when questioned by the Court, Deputy Forbert admitted that the Defendant’s tag lights were working on the night in question. Instead, Deputy Forbert explained that he initiated the traffic stop because the Defendant’s license tag was not illuminated brightly enough. Deputy Forbert claimed that he was unable to read the darkened tag from fifty feet away, as required under the statute. When questioned further by the Court, Deputy Forbert maintained that the tag was too dimly lit to read even forty feet away. However, Deputy Forbert eventually admitted at the hearing that he was able to see that the tag lights were in fact working and that the tag was illuminated once he stopped the vehicle.

Notably, Deputy Forbert’s uncorroborated assertion that the tag was not illuminated is not supported by any facts submitted by the Government and Deputy Forbert’s narrative makes no mention of the tag being poorly illuminated. Given the photos and evidence presented, the Court finds Deputy Forbert’s contradictory testimony on this matter unreliable. See Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143, 158, 92 S. Ct. 1921, 32 L. Ed. 612 (1972) (“When we legitimated the conduct of the officer in Terry we did so because of the substantial reliability of the information on which the officer based his decision to act.”).

The Government also argues that even if the Defendant’s tag lights were working properly, Deputy Forbert had reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop because the seatbelt violation alone was sufficient to justify the stop. At the suppression hearing, Deputy Forbert stated that he intended to perform a traffic stop for a seatbelt violation, contrary to the narrative he prepared the day of the traffic stop. Deputy Forbert maintained that he had reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop because he was able to see the passenger attempting to put her seatbelt on through the tinted windows. However, when questioned by the Court, Deputy Forbert admitted that the windows were darkly tinted and stated that he did not actually view the passenger without her seatbelt on. Based on the evidence and testimony presented at the hearing on this matter, the Court finds the evidence of a seatbelt violation unconvincing.

The Court stresses that it has considered the totality of the described circumstances in this case, with due deference to the experience of Deputy Forbert. Nonetheless, the Court does not find Deputy Forbert’s testimony regarding his reasonable suspicion warranting the traffic stop credible. Accordingly, the traffic stop on September 9, 2017, fails to survive the first prong of the Terry analysis and amounts to a violation of the Defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. at 15.

One has to wonder from this how many times this officer testified to this same scenario, and it was all just made up.

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