Our State's highest criminal court recently reversed a marijuana conviction out of Kaufman County Court at Law 2, just in time for 4/20. Whenever I discuss marijuana prohibition I always mention how much court time, prosecutor time, appointed lawyer time, police time and tax dollars we waste we waste prosecuting cannabis cases like this one.
It can take years for a case to move form arrest to appeal, and the whole time you are footing the bill so that the criminal justice system can have something to do (besides prosecute real crime that is). Marijuana prohibition is like an evil version of the WPA. Which reminds me, our lege is in session, so why not call your rep and ask them to support bills like this?
Enough editorializing, on to the case, our case of the day is Abney vs State.
What happened? From the opinion.
A Kaufman County Sheriff's Deputy followed Appellant for approximately one mile before pulling him over for driving in the left lane while not passing. When Appellant turned left onto a crossover to make a U-turn, the Deputy pulled the vehicle over, intending to identify the driver and issue a citation or warning regarding the traffic violation. Appellant was arrested and charged with possessing under two ounces of marijuana.
Appellant filed a motion to suppress evidence, which alleged that the traffic stop was unlawful. At the motion to suppress hearing, the Deputy testified that Appellant was traveling east on Highway 175, the road was straight, Appellant was not passing any other vehicles, and there were no vehicles in the right-hand lane. Kilgore said that a "left lane for passing only" sign was located about fifteen to twenty miles from where he first observed Appellant and that the sign provided the reasonable suspicion necessary to make the stop.
Did you get that? There was a sign twenty miles away that said not to drive in the right lane without passing, so that's why LEO stopped this driver. This feels like a pretext stop. Does anyone think the Deputy was really concerned with driving in the passing lane? Or was LEO trying to find a way to pull this car over and search for drugs?
Texas law allows for pretexts stops, and the transportation code provides a lot of cover for this activity. It's nearly impossible to drive for any length of time without committing some kind of traffic violation, and that's the way the State likes it. They can stop you, search you, and even arrest you, whenever they want.
What's the issue?
The trial court, and court of appeals ruled this stop was ok. The Court of Criminal Appeals discussed whether a sign 15-20 miles away could give an officer reasonable suspicion to stop.
Of course not. It would be crazy to rule that a sign 20 miles away means you still can not drive in the right lane. How long would such a sign last? Until the Texas border? That's just nuts.
Conviction reversed, and a small victory for liberty and Texas drivers everywhere. What is interesting is that Keller joined in the majority opinion. To quote Kanye West, "I know I got to be right now 'Cause I can't get much wronger." When Keller rules against the State, you can't get much wronger.
From the opinion-
The Transportation Code certainly indicates that if there is a sign present that says the left lane is for passing only, then it is a traffic offense to travel in the left lane when not passing another vehicle. Section 544.004(a) states that an operator of a vehicle shall comply with an applicable official traffic control device such as a "left lane for passing only" sign. Without such a sign present within a reasonable distance of the traffic stop, there is no offense.