For the most part, the day-to-day criminal proceedings in Solano County Superior Court can be pretty humdrum. It’s not like “The Practice” or “Law and Order.” Or even “Ally McBeal.”
Every now and then, though, a routine hearing can reveal remarkable interpretations of the law that could have far-reaching consequences for the criminal justice system.
I recently observed such an occurrence during an otherwise mundane court hearing involving alleged traffic and drug violations.
The case revolved around a gentleman whom police had tried to pull over for a traffic violation. The officers were a fair distance behind the motorist in an unmarked car and he had already pulled into a parking lot and gotten out of his vehicle by the time the pursuing officer arrived.
The man began walking away and one of the officers told him to stop, as police officers will do when they’re trying to get one’s attention.
The man, however, kept walking.
Police said his failure to stop constituted resisting officers.
Waydaminnit, waydaminnit, waydaminnit, said the man’s defense attorney. Simply walking away from police officers, he argued, is not a crime, particularly since the officers didn’t say exactly why they wanted him to stop.
The officers, he said, should have clearly enunciated their concerns about the man driving with a suspended license, perhaps by announcing in clear, easily understood language the state Vehicle Code section under which they were trying to stop him.
Something along the lines “Stop! We wish to speak to you about a possible violation of California Vehicle Code Section Fourteen-Six-Oh-One A!”
The judge didn’t buy it, but you’ve got to admit it’s a novel idea – and just the kind of novel idea that, against all odds, could somehow become case law and drive cops completely nuts.
What if every time a police officer wanted to contact a potential suspect, the officer had to announce, in clear, bell-like tones, the Penal Code, Vehicle Code or Fish and Game Code section about which he wished to talk to the citizen?
Yep, you’re gonna have a lot of grumpy law enforcement officers out there if this ever becomes a prerequisite to arrest …
“Stop! I wish to place you in custody for a violation of California Penal Code Section Four-Eighty-Seven A, subsection ‘a,’ to wit: feloniously stealing an animal carcass! Please be advised that I also require you stop for an alleged violation of Penal Code Section Six Ten, endangering navigation through the use of masked or false lights!”
And then, of course, the officer still has to read the citizen his Miranda rights.
No longer would fleeing felons have to sprint down alleys, jump over fences and dodge through traffic to get away. After an officer got through reciting the reasons for a potential arrest, the lawman would be so winded his prey would be able to casually stroll to freedom, perhaps pausing for a refreshing latte before moseying on down the road.
I know what you’re thinking – “Hey, that could never happen.”Don’t be so sure, amigos. This is, after all, California …
Originally published December 12, 2004