Short take: The One-Man Traffic Jam

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

15 thoughts on “Short take: The One-Man Traffic Jam

  1. Jim Cline

    Not sure if I’ve done this right, first time.

    [Ed. Note: No, leave out the coding altogether. I fixed it this time.]

  2. Richard G. Kopf

    SHG,

    Those damn pesky Texas state court judges with their views on state law, particularly when their views are as clear as a bell and mirror the statute being construed exactly, cause far too much trouble for state cops. Off with the heads of these dimwitted Texas judges.

    Come to think of it, thou, it’s Texas, after all. So my suggestion regarding beheading Texas state court judges has less of a downside than some might imagine. Their is a latin phrase I have in mind that perfectly captures my meaning: Hook ’em Horns!

    RGK

    1. SHG Post author

      If the 5th Cir is going to pull a Heien, the least they could do is make it look like they gave it an iota of thought. Of course, they can’t do that if they don’t have heads.

      1. Richard G. Kopf

        Let me be perfectly clear, I was not suggesting the guillotine for the federal judges. They are, as you well know, Gods. My complaint was with the state court judges, mere mortals, who were essentially ignored by the feds and that is, of course, as it should be in cases involving bad guys and the meaning of state traffic laws.

        Are we clear?*

        All the best.

        RGK

        * Far be it from me to criticize my federal brothers (and, cause I am woke) sisters. Unthinkable.

  3. Surikata

    This case is what they call a screener. A dumb and/or lazy staff attorney wrote up an opinion, and inertia carried it as is through disinterested clerks and judges to the opinions office.

  4. Patrick Maupin

    The coolest thing about a question-evading non-precedential memorandum appellate opinion is that it’s capable of repetition yet (in practical terms) evading review. Do as I say, not as I do.

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