McBride v. ColoradoAnnotate this Case
One night, while surveilling an area near a hotel for illegal drug trafficking, a sheriff’s deputy in an unmarked patrol car watched a Lincoln Town Car with two occupants pull into the hotel’s parking lot, park for less than ten minutes without anyone exiting the vehicle, and drive away. As she followed the Lincoln, a second deputy noticed that the car’s tail lamps were broken and that someone had tried to fix them with red tape but that the tape had melted, allowing the bulbs to emit “some white light.” The second deputy also observed the driver of the Lincoln commit what she perceived to be a second traffic infraction, namely, failing to use a turn signal when exiting a roundabout. At that point, the second deputy relayed to a third deputy, what she had seen and asked the third deputy to execute a traffic stop. Petitioner Timothy McBride was identified as the Lincoln's driver, and police found he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. Incident to the arrest, a search of the car netted a baggie containing methamphetamine and a handgun. McBride was charged on weapons and drug possession charges; he moved to suppress all evidence, arguing among other things, that the stop was unlawful because the deputies did not have a reasonable suspicion that McBride had committed any traffic offenses. Specifically, as pertinent here, McBride asserted that section 42-4-206(1) required that a vehicle’s tail lamps emit a red light plainly visible from a distance of five hundred feet to the rear. He argued that even if the deputies observed a white light, it was inconceivable that they did not also observe a red light, and “there is no statutory prohibition to any white light so long as the red light is visible.” The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the statute was plain and unambiguous: there is liability under that section when a motor vehicle’s tail lamps do not “emit a red light plainly visible from a distance of five hundred feet to the rear.” Nothing in that section mandated that a vehicle’s tail lamps must “shine only red light.” And because the prosecution did not present substantial and sufficient evidence that would have allowed a reasonable jury to find that the tail lamps of the car that McBride was driving failed to emit a red light plainly visible from a distance of five hundred feet to the rear, the Supreme Court concluded the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for a tail lamp violation.