We have all heard of a routine traffic stop. If we have not experienced such an event we have surely seen it or heard it referred to in one medium or another. If you have experienced the scenario you might think of it as being stopped or getting a ticket, which is the common reference. There are more divisions such as moving violations and equipment violations and those experienced in the process know the bottom line is pay money and that there are few if any ways to avoid the all but guaranteed outcome. A quick examination of any municipalities court traffic division will reveal that this scenario is a major source of income and any one who has tried to “fight” the unwarranted demand for payment of a “traffic fine” quickly learn the black robed jester cannot be reasoned with. The reason I am doing this is because my someone got a ticket for failure to stop for a school bus that he doesn’t think was reasonable and he has a stress related disorder and cannot deal with this kind of thing at this point in time. Being rather fluent in this area, I looked into it for him.
Let’s start with the bus stop at issue. The lens is facing East towards Highway 29 and four cars moving east from that intersection were “stopped” and the given “tickets” for failing to stop. I personally witnessed the routine on other dates and can honestly say the greatest threat to public safety was the sudden display of the police power and the seizing of groups of automobiles, four at a time.
I’d like to take a step back and get a better look at what we are talking about and I’d like to do that by avoiding my learned ignorance, as best I can, and trying to respect the fundamental distinctions in the terms we use to discuss legal theory primarily by distinguishing vacuous sound bite from substance and connecting the slang expressions to the legally defined terms that describe the same events.
My observations are different from what most of us have been trained to think. To begin with, my son was not stopped and he did not get what we have all been trained to call a ticket. Read it, it says “Notice to Appear”. He was “seized without warrant” for conduct not rising to the level of crime and he was served with a summons. This “Routine Traffic Stop” is now in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Amendments to the Constitution for the United States of America. The questions are surprisingly simple and the pleadings are short.
There could be any number of reasons why the police would activate their warning or emergency lights and those would be covered in the police policy and procedures manual. The use of a siren in conjunction with warning or emergency lights would also be covered in the police policy and procedures manual.
In the context of a routine traffic stop the officer is activating his emergency lights as a signal and a command for the vehicle in front of the police automobile to yield; to pull to the side of the road and to stop. At this point the officer approaches the automobile and asks the driver to produce his papers. The officer runs his checks for verification and warrants while he fills out the ticket, the driver signs the promise to appear, gets his copy and each is on their separate way. There are however, a variety of other possible outcomes and while I need not discuss the world of all possibilities, there are two very clear avenues worth exploring in the context of infractions. (1) what happens when the subject fails to stop and (2) what happens when the subject refuses to sign the promise to appear.
In examining these potential avenues we come to a clear view of the invasive nature of the initial police contact and the benign fashion in which such a seizure is treated after the fact.