A stop or detention by a police officer does not always lead to a citation. And a stop or detention by a police officer does not always lead to an arrest. Furthermore, and this is a very important concept to grasp ... an arrest does not always lead to a criminal conviction. Sometimes the police officer who issues you a ticket or who arrests you for committing a misdemeanor or felony gets it wrong. Not every arrest gets filed as a criminal complaint. Many times what the officer perceives as a crime is not.
Lets start with a little Criminal Procedure 101. After an arrest, a police officer writes a police report under penalty of perjury and thereafter sends the report to the local prosecutor’s office so that a Deputy prosecuting attorney can decide whether or not to file charges based on what the officer included in his or her report. Sometimes no criminal complaint will be filed as the officer stated facts in his report that did not include criminal activity OR that showed that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to detain someone or probable cause to effectuate an arrest.
Hypothetical Scenario #1
A police officer is patrolling the local neighborhood and his or her attention is drawn to what s/he perceives to be a vehicle weaving ahead of the officers. The officer gets behind the vehicle and lights up the car ahead to pull over which the driver does immediately. The officer notices that the driver of the vehicle has no issues parking perfectly. He notices that the driver has turned the car off and has started to roll the windows down as the officer approached. The officer is trained to detect the odor of alcohol or other intoxicants such as the odor of burnt marijuana emitting from the vehicle but in this case the officer smells nothing as he approaches the car. The officer gets right up to the drivers side of the car and he notices that the driver has two little puppies that are not restrained and are jumping from the back seat to the front seat. Upon further questioning of the driver of the vehicle who is obviously not under the influence of alcohol or drugs the officer determines that the dogs in the car were the sole reason for the drivers minor swerving of he vehicle and the officer allows the driver to proceed with no citation.
Real Life Hypothetical Scenario #2 (this really happened)
The Glendale Police Department was having a slow night for arrests so when Officer Lovely saw a patched member of a motorcycle club riding solo through a fairly quiet section of town he decided to have some fun. The motorcyclist, Robert, was riding at a safe legal speed and noticed the officer make a U-turn as he passed the officer. This made the motorcyclist pay even closer attention to the traffic safety laws. Anyway, the motorcycle rider came to a complete stop behind the limit line at a 3-way traffic signal. He even placed both his feet on the ground as the law requires before he proceeded straight ahead when the light changed green. The officer, seeing absolutely no traffic infractions and thus having no reasonable suspicion that any criminal activity was afoot, decided to harass the motorcycle rider citizen and alerted him to pull over. Robert did everything as the officer commanded over his vehicles loud speaker (which incidentally totally disturbed the peace and tranquility of those who were trying to sleep in their homes nearby) such as turning off his bike, removing his helmet and keeping his hands on the handlebars and his feet on the ground.
The officer called for back up officers to arrive so it took a couple of minutes before four other squad cars arrived before Officer Lovely approached the lone motorcyclist at gunpoint. The motorcyclist was startled at the enormous presence of law enforcement personnel and when he asked Officer Lovely what was going on, Officer Lovely yelled at him to “shut the fcuk up.”
Robert was ordered off his motorcycle at gun point and directed to sit on the sidewalk which he complied with. The officers now began to search his motorcycle for who knows what. They found nothing so they turned their attention to Robert. They ordered him to stand still as they searched his person for contraband and weapons without a warrant. Again they found nothing. What they didn’t know was that Robert was 45 years old and had never even received a traffic ticket before. After searching Robert’s motorcycle and person the officers looked at his keychain which had a plastic ring with a dog picture on it and two protruding hard plastic dog ears that easily fit over the fingers of Robert. Officer Lovely determined that this plastic ring was and could be used as a brass knuckle. Robert overheard the other officers tell Officer Lovely that possession of that plastic ring was not a crime because it was made out of plastic and thus did not fit under the class of “weapons” that are made out of some metallic material. Officer Lovely could give two shits and he arrested Robert on the stop for carrying a weapon in his motorcycle.
I was hired by Robert and after speaking to him regarding the plastic ring I wrote the following letter to the Head Deputy District Attorney which resulted in no charges being filed against Robert.