Does Politeness Constitute Probable Cause?

by Will Grigg
Dec. 05, 2013

In our supposedly free country, a police officer on patrol can stop and question a driver for practically any reason he can devise. Police officers, eager to find evidence of narcotics offenses or other illegal activity, are taught to “build every stop” by looking for a pretext to search the vehicle. This can include what is described as suspicious body language – which, according to some cops, includes excessive politeness.

About a year ago, Ohio Highway Patrolman Jared Haslar stopped a motorist named Joshua Fontane for supposedly driving 45 miles per hour in a 35 MPH zone. Fontane readily provided his license and other information. Haslar found Fontane’s “body language and behavior” to be “a little bit unusual” because it was “overly polite.” On this basis, he called for backup from an officer with a drug-detecting dog. He then detained Fontane in his patrol car while the citizen’s vehicle was searched. A handgun and a small amount of marijuana were found in the car.

A trial court granted Fontane’s motion to suppress the evidence as the product of an invalid search. The Ohio Court of Appeals has upheld that ruling, but this probably won’t be enough to stop police from treating citizen courtesy as if it were suspicious.

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