North Carolina apparently hasn’t fully revised its automobile code since before the days of break lights. Under state law, a car’s only required to have “a stop lamp on the rear of the vehicle.” Yes, “a stop lamp”—not “two brake lights,” as Deputy Darisse and most of the rest of us would assume.
As interpreted by the Supreme Court, the Fourth Amendment creates an exclusionary rule, under which an unconstitutional stop is a “poisonous tree,” and anything that is discovered in a search afterwards is tainted “fruit.” It can’t be used in evidence, and, as then-Judge Benjamin Cardozo wrote, “the criminal is to go free because the constable has blundered.”
Ignorance of the law is no defense—even if someone makes a “reasonable” mistake. As recently as 1971, the Supreme Court repeated that “the principle that ignorance of the law is no defense applies whether the law be a statute or a duly promulgated and published regulation.” Dozens of lower-court cases since then have reiterated this warning.
If regular people, who lack legal training, are expected to know and follow complicated these laws, is it too much to expect that sheriff’s deputies know the motor-vehicle code they are paid to enforce? Lower courts are split on the issue, but most have held that if an officer makes a mistake about the law, that mistake cannot be used as justification for a stop.
Just last term, the Court held that an anonymous tip that a driver was driving erratically could be grounds for police to stop a car, even if, once police catch up to the car, the driver shows no sign of impairment.
This case, Heien v. North Carolina, before the Supreme Court asks whether police can stop drivers for doing something that isn't a crime if the officers have misunderstood the law.
This case, which shows that driving with your hands at “10 and two” is somehow enough to get a cop on a driver’s tail, will test just how much protection the Fourth Amendment offers to citizens who are guilty or innocent—or just trying to get somewhere.
(Sheriff's Deputy Darisse became suspicious of Vasquez. (seems clear it's racial profiling with this effing lame ass excuse) In court, Darisse reasoned that the driver “was gripping the steering wheel at a “10-and-two” position, looking straight ahead”—driving like a regular person, in other words. Darisse followed the car until it came to a stoplight. At that point, he noticed one brake light was out. He stopped the vehicle. Then got permission to search the vehicle. WHY? For a replacement light bulb? NO! Cocaine! http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/10/how-broad-is-the-barney-fife-loophole-to-the-fourth-amendment/381085/
to track the case, as it was just argued today... http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/heien-v-north-carolina/