The question isn’t whether Reserve Officer Sean Dolan was telling the truth or not, or even right or not, but whether his certainty that Zachariah Marshall was speeding is good enough. The appellate court held that this violated the Fourth Amendment.
Hebron police officer Sean Dolan was patrolling the area around State Road 8 and 500 West on October 19, 2016. He observed Defendant’s car speeding and stopped the [D]efendant. Officer Dolan was using a radar, but he could not testify at hearing or at deposition 1) what speed the [D]efendant was traveling and 2) what the radar showed as [D]efendant’s speed. He could only state the following:
Q: How certain were you that the defendant was speeding?
A: Very certain, a hundred percent.
Well, Dolan did testify he was certain. Not just certain, but 100% certain. You can’t be more certain than that, right? Not only didn’t Dolan know the speed at which Marshall was driving, but he had no clue what the speed limit was that he 100% for certain exceeded.
During a pre-trial deposition, Reserve Officer Dolan could not recall the posted speed limit at the location of the traffic stop, but he claimed he knew at the time of the stop what the speed limit was in the area. He testified he “thought maybe it was forty miles an hour[.]” (Tr. Vol. II at 22.) During the suppression hearing, Reserve Officer Dolan indicated he had visited the location of the stop prior to the hearing and that the speed limit was fifty miles per hour. Reserve Officer Dolan testified he did not pace Marshall’s vehicle, did not write down the speed at which he observed Marshall traveling prior to the traffic stop, and did not observe Marshall commit additional traffic infractions.
Marshall was arrested for drunk driving, but not given a ticket for speeding. Still, there had to be a basis upon which Dolan pulled him over or the seizure violated the Fourth Amendment, and it was the state’s duty to provide the proof of reasonable and articulable suspicion to justify the stop.
Or is it? By 5-0, the Indiana Supreme Court held the stop 100% legit.
While we abide by our prior statement, this case presents a variation on that jurisprudential
theme by addressing what details must survive that on-the-spot evaluation for the traffic stop to hold up under the Fourth Amendment’s weight. Marshall presents a more specific question: when an officer stops a driver for speeding, does the reasonable-suspicion standard demand
that the officer document the driver’s speed?
Curiously, the Supreme Court uses the word “details” where most would say “facts.” But the question framed as documenting the driver’s speed isn’t what Marshall is presenting at all, but rather the duty of the officer to present the reasonable and articulable facts upon which the stop was grounded. How he remembers it is his problem. That it’s remembered, such that it can be challenged by the defendant and subject to judicial scrutiny, is the question.
First, we disagree with Marshall’s premise that the Fourth Amendment requires that an officer provide a number for how fast a defendant was driving. The reasonable-suspicion standard does not demand such measures. Like probable cause, reasonable suspicion is not readily quantifiable and cannot be “reduced to a neat set of legal rules.” Sokolow, 490 U.S. at 7 (quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 232 (1983)). Rather, the reasonable-suspicion “standard takes into account ‘the totality of the circumstances—the whole picture.’”
Much as the concept of “reasonable suspicion” may not be reducible to a “neat set of legal rules,” speed is remarkably easy to reduce to a number because it’s a number. There’s a speed limit on the road. There’s a speed the driver is driving. Those “details” are extremely easy to reduce to a “neat set of legal rules” because they’re actual, hard, objective, discernible numbers. Two plus two doesn’t equal something four-ish, or certainly over three, 100%.
Second, we reject Marshall’s request for a bright-line rule for similar reasons and because we think such a rule unnecessary. As we just said, reasonable suspicion must be evaluated based on the totality of the circumstances of each particular case. And this individualized test does not lend itself to bright-line, widespread rules. What amounts to reasonable suspicion in one case may not be enough in a different case.
There may well be hard cases. This case, however, wasn’t hard. The bright line, speed limit v. speed driver was driving, could not have been simpler, anyplace but Indiana, apparently.
Looking at the totality of these facts—the whole picture—Officer Dolan had reasonable suspicion to stop Marshall for speeding that night, meaning Dolan possessed and provided sufficient articulable facts or particularized, objective facts that Marshall was speeding.
Whenever a court mentions “totality of the facts,” make sure they haven’t stolen your wallet. It’s shorthand for bootstrapping trivial and irrelevant “details” to compensate for the normal objective facts that would otherwise be used to establish the burden of proof. When the objective and significant facts are missing, the “totality” kicks in to fill in the gaps.
Officer Dolan testified he was one-hundred percent sure that Marshall was speeding when he stopped him. All told, Officer Dolan articulated enough facts that gave him a particularized and objective basis for believing Marshall was speeding when he initiated the traffic stop. We, therefore, hold that the traffic stop did not amount to an unconstitutional seizure under the Fourth Amendment.
You can tell that Dolan was merely a reserve cop, as a “new professional” cop would have just made up a number and there would be no issue. But Dolan forced the Indiana Supreme Court to concede that would be too much effort, since he was 100% certain. And if the cop is certain, isn’t that good enough for the Constitution?