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¡No Se Deje!
Ricardo Valadez was stopped by a police officer for “impeding traffic”. A search of Mr. Valadez’ truck revealed several undocumented immigrants. Mr. Valadez was also charged with “transporting illegal aliens”. His attorney filed a petition to exclude all evidence found in the truck asserting that the stop was unlawful. The attorney correctly stated that a police officer must, with few exceptions, have a “reasonable suspicion” that a law has been violated before stopping a driver. This is required under the 4th amendment to the U. S. Constitution.
The police officer stated that he stopped Mr. Valadez because he was going 45 mph in a 55 mph speed zone. He said that he felt that at 45 mph, Mr. Valadez was impeding traffic and could cause an accident by cars approaching him rapidly from behind. The officer did not try to pass the Valadez truck nor did he see any other cars try to pass it. The trial judge in the Federal District Court agreed with the police officer that there was a reasonable suspicion that a traffic law had been violated which justified the stop.
The Federal Appeals Court disagreed and ruled that Mr. Valadez was correct. The court ruled that “the police cannot conduct a traffic stop for allegedly violating a state law prohibiting the impeding of traffic where the driver’s speed was only moderately below the speed limit”. The court also said “the officer’s failure to understand the plain unambiguous law that he is charged with enforcing is not objectively reasonable”. The court granted the petition to exclude all evidence obtained after the unlawful stop and mentioned many similar cases in other states.
This case is very important for several reasons. We should all remember that all persons, no matter what their immigration status are protected by the law. In this case, Mr. Valadez had the right to a trial, to have the law properly applied to his case, and to appeal the erroneous decision of the District Judge. He had the right and the opportunity to prove that what the police officer did was a violation of the U. S. Constitution and that the trial judge was wrong in approving the officer’s conduct. And, more importantly, he was able to get the criminal charge of “transporting illegal aliens” dismissed because the evidence of that offense was obtained illegally and not usable in court.
This case, and many others, demonstrates the benefit of consulting with a qualified attorney to determine your rights and the procedures for enforcing them. A police officer and a Federal judge were proven wrong and their decisions and conduct were corrected by the Federal Appeals judges. The fact that Mr. Valadez was “transporting illegal aliens” does not justify the violation of his constitutional right to be left alone unless there is a reasonable suspicion that he violated the law.
Denying police officers the ability to use illegally obtained evidence is the best way to persuade them to obey the law. If they know that guilty people will go free because the evidence they found was obtained illegally, the will usually follow the law. ¡NO SE DEJE! ®
JESS J. ARAUJO, ESQ.