A 53-year-old man, who got a small taste of freedom after sixteen years of wrongful incarceration, is dead after a traffic stop went horribly wrong.
According to the GBI, a Chatham County Sheriffs’ deputy pulled the man over for reckless driving on Interstate 95. At first, the man was cooperative, albeit somewhat confrontational. Then, as the confrontation escalated, the deputy shocked the man with a stun gun when he failed to obey commands, and a physical scuffle began. The GBI said the deputy again tried using the stun gun and a baton to subdue him, then drew his gun and shot the man when he continued to resist.
Innocence Project of Florida Executive Director Seth Miller speculated that the possibility of a return to prison triggered the man. “Even when they’re free, they always struggle with the concern, the fear that they’ll be convicted and incarcerated again for something they didn’t do,” he said.
In 2020, the IPF successfully petitioned to overturn the man’s 2003 armed robbery conviction. He also received education benefits and $817,000 in compensation.
How to Act at a Traffic Stop
Before we delve into the substance of this story, we should touch on how to behave during a traffic stop. Police officers are edgy during these encounters, usually because they have little or no idea of what to expect. Edgy people with guns are dangerous.
In 2021, the National Police Association unveiled its comply now and complain later campaign. That’s certainly not a good response to police officer bullying at a traffic stop. But it is, by far, the safest approach. It’s also the most effective approach, especially if a Marietta criminal defense lawyer handles the complaint.
Complying means pulling over immediately, or at least slowing down and turning on hazard flashers to acknowledge the officer’s presence. When you stop, turn off the ignition, turn on the dome light, and keep your hands on the steering wheel at 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock. Drivers must obey basic “step out of the car” commands, but they don’t have to answer questions, thanks to the Fifth Amendment.
On a related note, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Georgia, has ruled that “protesting and filming police conduct” are constitutionally protected activities. However, that stance is subject to change, as the Supreme Court has not weighed in on this issue.
Profiling, which is most likely what happened in the above story, is probably the most serious complaint. Basically, profiling means the defendant did something wrong, but that wrongdoing was only a pretext to further investigate the matter. Something about the man didn’t “look right,” most likely because he was driving a car with out-of-state plates.
Furtive movement stops, which are similar to profiling stops, are also illegal. Furtive movements include nervous glances into the rearview mirror and fumbling gestures, as if the driver is hiding something or reaching for something.
Frequently, officers combine furtive movement stops with traffic violation stops. Assume Steve jerks the steering wheel when he sees Officer Lisa in his rearview mirror. As a result, she follows him for a few blocks. When he rolls through a stop sign, she pulls him over. Steve’s furtive movement, as opposed to his stop sign violation, caught Officer Lisa’s attention. Therefore, her stop was arguably illegal.
Police officers, like everyone else, have a right to defend themselves if they face a credible threat and they proportionately respond to that threat.
If I threaten Jason Momoa, he has nothing to be afraid of. I couldn’t possibly hurt him. In the pre-body cam era, officers often testified that they were reasonably afraid of the suspect and therefore use of force was justified. Today, jurors can clearly see that a 5-8 suspect was no threat to a 6-2 police officer.
In the above story, shooting an unarmed suspect is usually not a proportional response. However, the officer tased the suspect twice and also used his baton. The Glock was the next logical step.
Evidence in Criminal Cases
Now, let’s switch gears and examine the evidence in the 2003 armed robbery case. More than likely, if the suspect didn’t have this background, he wouldn’t have reacted the way he did. Prior to his trial, a witness picked the man out of a photo lineup. At trial, the jury evidently disregarded the man’s alibi.
Police initially had no suspects for a violent drug store robbery. So, as is usually the case in these situations, investigators initially targeted people in the area with criminal records.
Most likely, the witness picked the suspect out of a single-blind photo lineup. Although the witness doesn’t know the suspect’s identity, the administering officer knows. Therefore, the administering officer usually gives the witness subtle, or not-so-subtle, prompts. These prompts make the lineup unreliable.
The robbery occurred at about 7:20 a.m. At trial, the defendant presented an ATM receipt, from a machine several miles away, timestamped 6:52 a.m.
But the alibi didn’t sway jurors. It was possible, although unlikely, that the suspect could have gone to the ATM and then robbed the store. More than likely, however, jurors simply believed the “eyewitness” testimony instead of the defendant’s rather shaky alibi.
There’s another dynamic. One jury deadlocked over this issue and prosecutors offered the man a seven-year sentence prior to the second trial. So, his lawyer might have had a false sense of security. A Marietta criminal defense lawyer must always prepare for the worst.
The alibi is a good example. More than likely, someone saw the defendant at the ATM and could have testified that he was there and, when he left, he didn’t head toward the drug store. Such witnesses are critical to a successful criminal defense.
Conviction reversal isn’t the only kind of post-conviction relief. It’s not even the most common kind of relief.
That distinction probably belongs to probation revocation matters. Probation terms in Georgia are unusually long and burdensome. Almost all defendants violate at least once condition at least one time. Frequently, a Marietta criminal defense lawyer intervenes early and convinces the probation officer to give the defendant a second chance. Failing that, an attorney advocates for a defendant in court.
Usually, attorneys resolve probation revocation matters out of court. Prosecutors usually agree to drop these motions if the defendant agrees to extend the term, abide by a few more conditions, or serve a brief jail sentence as a condition of reinstatement.
On a related note, Cobb County judges have very broad discretion to amend the terms and conditions of probation, or even end probation early. Such relief is usually available if the defendant toes the line for about a third of the period of probation.
An aggressive and comprehensive criminal defense usually wins the day. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. The sooner you reach out to us, the sooner we start working for you.