A judge from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a dusty or dirty car is not grounds to pull someone over. That became a matter of question during the appeal for Shaune Woods who was pulled over by Ohio State troopers Drew Untied and Michael Wilson. On Aug 22. Judge W. Scott Gwin ruled that officers did not have probable cause to pull over Shaune Woods for following too closely on Nov. 3, 2015.
The troopers were watching traffic on a highway when Wilson saw Woods’ vehicle. The troopers ran the plate on the vehicle and it came back as a rental. Trooper Untied stated that people involved with criminal activity often use rental vehicles to avoid seizure of their own property. Untied stated the car appeared dusty which is uncommon for a rental car. For that reason alone the troopers stopped Woods on a trumped up charge of following too closely and conducted an illegal search of his property.
According to News 9, “the vehicle was searched and drugs were discovered within the passenger side seat.” The troopers charged him with possession of drugs, a first-degree felony. The drugs were later identified as cocaine according to Licking County Common Pleas Court records.
Despite the fact that drugs were found, the practice by the troopers pulling over a dirty car set a dangerous precedent as to what police could pull people over. The dashcam footage debunked the troopers’ claim that Woods was following too closely. In the footage, Woods’ vehicle is in the right lane and the cruiser in the left lane, several car lengths behind. As the two cars traveled near each other, vehicles in the left lane moved into the right lane.
“Why would the left lane drivers be merging right? Simple. There’s a cop car behind them, in the left lane,” the ruling states. “Most reasonable drivers merge right when a vehicle behind them appears to want to go faster, especially when it’s the police.”
As more cars shifted into the right lane drivers braked to accommodate the vehicles. Woods was guilty of doing the same… switching to the right lane while making room for more cars to get into the lane. It is a common practice by most drivers with the most basic of common sense. The judge ruled that Woods did that as well and the entry states he did not violate the statue of following too closely.
“The Court finds that the video was more reliable and more accurate than the other evidence offered. And at times, the video simply contradicted the trooper’s version of what occurred.” the court record states.
“Who knows what the weather conditions had been like the week, days, or even hours before the stop. It’s Ohio. The point is weather can change quickly here. If that’s the threshold by which traffic stops are made, then we’re all in jeopardy,” the judge ruled. ” And if it was dirty, so what? Having a dusty vehicle with fingerprints on the hatch back or tailgate, is not evidence of a traffic violation or reason to believe a crime is being committed.”