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Cop Had Reasonable Suspicion to Detain Name-Dropping Biker

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on October 10, 2012 4:03 PM

Cab drivers are the modern day equivalent of the Greek oracles. In the last year, talkative cabbies have offered us tips on life, literature, and how to deal with a traffic stop.

We know the ins and out of search and seizure, but a cab driver held the key to avoiding a traffic ticket: Beat yourself up about how stupid you were to speed/roll through a stop sign/cut off a cyclist. Don't argue, don't play dumb. The cop may take pity on you and let you go.

What you don't want to do is pattern your counter-ticket tactics on today's Eleventh Circuit appellant.

In short: Don't try to name-drop your way out of a traffic ticket, don't wear gang symbols, and don't consent to a search of your vehicle.

Alabama State Trooper George Roe stopped Richard Durham for changing lanes on his motorcycle without signaling. Durham was sporting threads with "Pistalaros" insignia when he was stopped. (The "Pistalaros and Bandidos" are motorcycle clubs known for "violence, drugs, and several felony-type criminal activities.")

Roe and Durham chatted during the stop. Durham mentioned that he was en route to a motorcycle club meeting. When Roe inquired about the meeting location, Durham became "serious" and started mentioning the names of other cops Roe might know.

Roe issued the traffic citation, and then asked Durham to wait "just a second" while he conferred with his partner. Based on the facts that Durham had "shut down" at the mention of the meeting location, started name-dropping, and was wearing a vest that indicated he was the sergeant-at-arms -- a person who usually carries weapons to "keep the peace" -- for his biker club, the cops decided to conduct a protective patdown. Then they obtained Durham's permission to search his bike, where they found brass knuckles, buckshot, and a homemade shotgun type weapon.

Since Durham had served hard time, he was ultimately charged and convicted as a felon in possession of ammunition.

Durham argued to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals that the traffic stop was unlawfully extended because he was detained longer than was required to effectuate the purpose of the traffic stop. He argued that he should have been free to leave when the traffic citation was completed. Furthermore, there was no reasonable suspicion to justify his continued detention after the pat down search, so Durham's subsequent consent to the search of his motorcycle was not valid.

In an unpublished opinion, Eleventh Circuit found that Durham's detention for "about a minute" after Roe issued the citation was not an unreasonable extension of the traffic stop, and that Roe had a reasonable suspicion to ask more questions based on his belief that Durham was the Sergeant-at-Arms of a motorcycle club believed to be involved in dangerous activity and Durham's caginess about the meeting location. Finally, the court found that Durham's voluntary consent cured any taint from the illegal detention.

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