To its enormous credit, the Fifth Circuit managed to dispose of the case in a three-page opinion, which is about 173 pages below the norm since computers replaced quills. But their brevity is blunted by the likelihood that had they tried to write anything longer, the secret author of the per curiam decision would have collapsed in a tearful paroxysm. Judges hate that.
The legality of a traffic stop is examined under the two-pronged analysis in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). United States v. Brigham, 382 F.3d 500, 506 (5th Cir. 2003) (en banc). This appeal focuses solely on the first Terry prong—whether the officer’s decision to conduct a stop was justified at its inception.
Every case has to start somewhere, so when it involves a motion to suppress based upon a warrantless stop, Terry would be the natural starting point.
Texas law provides, “An operator may not drive so slowly as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.” TEX. TRANSP. CODE ANN. § 545.363(a). “Driving at a speed that is less than the posted limit is not, by itself, sufficient for reasonable suspicion; a violation occurs only when the normal and reasonable movement of traffic is impeded.” Delafuente v. State, 414 S.W.3d 173, 178 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013); see also Richardson v. State, 39 S.W.3d 634, 638−39 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 2000, no pet.).
A rather unremarkable statement of Texas law, or law pretty much anywhere. Nothing unusual here.
Reynero’s reliance on Richardson is misplaced because its circumstances are distinguishable for the reasons found by the district court. Given the dearth of authority on whether a single vehicle constitutes traffic, see United States v. Gonzalez, 792 F.3d 534, 538 (5th Cir. 2015), the ambiguity in the statute, and the danger observed by the officer, the officer could have reasonably believed that he witnessed a violation of Section 545.363(a), see Heien v. North Carolina, 574 U.S. 54, 57, 65−66 (2014); cf. United States v. Alvarado-Zarza, 782 F.3d 246, 249−50 (5th Cir. 2015).
Wait, what? Of course there’s a “dearth of authority on whether a single vehicle constitutes traffic,” because it’s as nonsensical as a single hand constituting clapping. There’s a dearth of authority on an infinite variety of utterly absurd views because no cop was so utterly moronic as to make a stop based on them. Is there a case holding that cops can’t stop cars with blue hubcaps?
But the Fifth Circuit has a magic trick at its disposal, Heien v. North Carolina, Then again, even Heien is limited to “objectively reasonable” mistakes of law, and it seems obvious that any cop who is of the view that one driver constitutes a traffic jam is too stupid to breathe. So how does the Fifth Circuit deal with this intellectual deficit?
Accordingly, Reynero-Serna fails to show that the district court clearly or obviously erred in denying suppression. See Puckett, 556 U.S. at 135; United States v. Michelletti, 13 F.3d 838, 841 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). The judgment is therefore AFFIRMED.
And that’s how easy it can be.
H/T Andrew Fleischman