Court Upholds Traffic Stop
Case: People v. Ernst
Court: Michigan Court of Appeals ( Unpublished Opinion )
Search & seizure; U.S. Const. amend. IV; Const. 1963, art. 1, § 11; Whether the police had cause to stop defendant’s vehicle; People v. Simmons; People v. Williams; Terry v. Ohio; MCL 257.648(1) & (7); MCL 257.626b; Heien v. North Carolina; Whether the trial court properly conducted an experiment to test defense theories raised in the motion to suppress; MRE 201(b); People v. Simon; M Crim JI 2.16; United States v. Alabi (10th Cir.); Lillie v. United States (10th Cir.); Price Bros. Co. v. Philadelphia Gear Corp. (6th Cir.); People v. Griffin;People v. Schaw
The court held that whether the police officer (S) was truthful about the driving infractions that occurred before his dashboard camera was activated was a question of credibility, and it deferred to the trial court’s findings in that regard. Also, the trial court’s experiment to test the defense theories raised in the motion to suppress, while ill advised, was not outcome determinative. Defendant was convicted of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (third offense). He merged behind an SUV and did not notice that it was stopped. Travelling 35 MPH, he “came within a car length of the SUV, slammed on his brakes, and swerved into the neighboring lane, barely avoiding a collision.” S was saving earlier footage from his dashboard camera. The recording feature was not activated and did not capture the incident. S tailed defendant and eventually pulled him over. Defendant contended that the trial court should have suppressed the evidence against him because the police lacked cause to stop his vehicle. S cited the “near collision and veering from the second to third lane without signaling as the reasons for his traffic stop.” The court concluded that the trial court’s review of the dashboard camera footage supported its determination that S was a credible witness. “Although the SUV was not visible in the footage,” the trial court rejected defendant’s theory that it did not exist. Defendant made much of S’s “revised” testimony, accusing S “of changing his testimony to continue supporting a narrative that was contradicted by the video footage.” However, S “never wavered” in his claim about defendant’s speed and the near collision, and was “clear from the beginning that his diagram of the scene was ‘not to scale,’ requiring him to explain the positions of the various vehicles at the intersection.” Defendant further contended that “the trial court improperly relied upon the fruits of the illegal seizure to justify the seizure.” The trial court noted that he “admitted to nearly colliding with another vehicle when questioned” by S at the scene. However, this finding was not necessary to its ruling; it denied the motion to suppress after finding that S “credibly testified that he observed defendant commit traffic infractions.” Further, the trial court made sufficient findings independent of its private experiment to support denying the motion. Affirmed.