Our final entry for our Thanksgiving series of Thankful We're Not ... reads like a very close retelling of a case we previously posted, one that's remarkably going to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2018. That case originated in a February 2014 traffic stop in Pennsylvania, where a driver in a rental car issued in someone else's name was pulled over for driving slowly in the passing lane. The cops then found the heroin and bulletproof vest in the trunk of the car, which sent the protagonist of that story (Terrence Byrd) to the Federal Correctional Institution Hazelton. Mr. Byrd's attorneys are claiming that the search that found the heroin and bulletproof vest were unconstitutional (violating the 4th Amendment). Well, there's another case that mirrors Mr. Byrd's -- as AutoSlash founder Jonathan has stated, "rental cars and drug dealers go together like peanut butter and jelly." So how closely does the newer case mirror Mr. Byrd's?
The Curious Case of Jerald Lateith Brown
Fourteen months after Mr. Byrd's bust, Mr. Brown was in a rental car (check), issued in someone else's name (check), and didn't have a valid license (only a learner's permit), so he wasn't an authorized user of the rental car (check). He got pulled over due to driving slowly in the passing lane (check) in the State of Pennsylvania (check). In Mr. Brown's case, the K-9 was nearby and detected drugs, a quantity scientifically referred to as a "laundry bag full". His lawyers attempted to make the claim that the bag of weed was inadmissible evidence, as driving slow in the passing lane isn't a valid reason to initiate a traffic stop.
That legal argument has failed spectacularly before, and here's the Pennsylvania Code (75 Pa.C.S. § 6308(b)) that sets the threshold of a traffic stop at a "reasonable suspicion" that a violation is occurring:
(b) Authority of police officer.--Whenever a police officer is engaged in a systematic program of checking vehicles or drivers or has reasonable suspicion that a violation of this title is occurring or has occurred, he may stop a vehicle, upon request or signal, for the purpose of checking the vehicle's registration, proof of financial responsibility, vehicle identification number or engine number or the driver's license, or to secure such other information as the officer may reasonably believe to be necessary to enforce the provisions of this title.
Of course, the Pennsylvania Code's "Rules of the Roads" separately insist that the passing lane is for passing. We all learned that in Driver's Education but both Mr. Byrd and Mr. Brown (with his learner's permit) failed to understand the gravity of driving slowly in the passing lane. Mr. Brown had 99 problems -- the drug K-9 and the laundry bag of synthetic drugs were the most pressing -- and he'll likely spend about 99 months total in prison (he was sentenced to 84 to 168 months).
AutoSlash's Helpful Notes for Rental Car Users
- Don't be a criminal and/or don't give the rental car to someone who's an unauthorized driver. Remember, the person who rented the car is financially responsible for the car if it gets impounded, and having a car impounded due to a drug bust is certain to result in a prominent listing on the Do Not Rent list.
- If you choose to be a criminal in a rental car, stay away from the State of Pennsylvania. The police there seem to have the concept of drug dealers in rental cars on lockdown (sorry, that joke's "too soon" for Messrs. Brown and Byrd).
- And wherever you are, please stay out of the passing lane except to pass. We're sure Messrs. Brown and Byrd would agree with that advice, and we all could benefit from others following basic traffic rules.
If in the fast lane, be sure to go ... well, fast.
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