People v GarlockAnnotate this Case
Decided on November 16, 2010
Just Ct of Town of Lockport, Niagara County
People of the State of New York, , Plaintiff,
David F. Garlock, Defendant.
Hon. Michael J. Violante, Niagara County District Attorney
(Joseph Scalzo, of Counsel), for the People
Anthony J. Lana, Attorney for Defendant
Leonard G. Tilney, Jr., J.
The Defendant, by written motion requested, inter alia, an Ingle Hearing (People
vs. Ingle 36 NY2d 413) to determine the legality of the automobile stop. The People
consented to the hearing. The arresting officer was the sole witness at the hearing. Both parties
submitted written post-hearing arguments.
People assert Niagara County Sheriff Deputy Timothy Caughel had probable cause to stop the defendant on Driving While Intoxicated charges because the defendant violated Section 375(3) of the Vehicle and Traffic Law. People state the defendant's high beam lights were on before, during and after the time he passed Caughel, causing Caughel to look away, thus, creating a "detrimental effect."
Defendant asserts Deputy Caughel had no reason to pull him over, because Caughel was unaware of the statutory "detrimental effect" requirement.VTL 375(3) not being applicable meant there was no basis to stop the defendant and any reasons given by Caughel for the stop [*2]under that section of the statute were based on a mistake of law, to wit: defendant's high beams were not dimmed.
Probable cause ." exists where the facts and circumstances within their (the officers') knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information (are) sufficient in themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that' an offense has been or is being committed" Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 162, 45 S. Ct. 280, 288, 69 L. Ed. 543, 39 A.L.R. 790. See also People v. Oden 36 NY2d 382, 368 NYS2d 508 (1975)
Standard of Review for Automobile Stop:
The standard of review is Probable Cause not Reasonable Suspicion.
People v. Ingle 36 NY2d 413, decided in 1975, has served for 35 years as the seminal case in New York State regarding stop of vehicle issues. An "Ingle" hearing is shorthand for a hearing to determine the legality of a vehicle stop. Ingle held that "Thus, an arbitrary stop of a single automobile for purportedly routine traffic check is impermissible unless the police officer reasonably suspects a violation of the Vehicle and Traffic Law". Ingle p 419. The Court in Ingle went on to state:
An actual violation of the vehicle and traffic law need not be detectable all that is required is that the stop be not the product of mere whim, caprice, or idle curiosity. It is enough if the stop is based upon specific and articulable facts which taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonable warrant the intrusion." citing Terry v. Ohio 392 US 1.
This was black letter law in New York State until 2001. The Court of Appeals then addressed the issue of pre-textual stops of vehicles in People v. Robinson 97 NY2d 341. Previously, the Supreme Court in Whren v. United States 571 US 806 unanimously held that where a police officer has probable cause to detain a person temporarily for a traffic violation, that seizure does not violate the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution even though the underlying reason for the stop might have been to investigate some other matter. The Court of Appeals adopted Whren as a matter of state law. The Court of Appeals in Robinson elevated the standard required to justify the stop of a vehicle from reasonable suspicion to probable cause. Initially Robinson was only applied to pre-textual stops. However, with the passage of time, it appears all four Judicial Departments apply the probable cause standard to stops regarding traffic violations. People v. White 40 AD 3rd 535 (First Dept. 2007), People v. Watson 15 AD 3rd 598 (Second Dept. 2005). People v. Kearney14 AD 3rd 938 (Third Dept. 2005), People v. Rose 67 AD 3rd 1447 (Fourth Dept. 2009). The difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause is certainly discernible. Reasonable suspicion has been defined as that "quantum of knowledge sufficient to induce an ordinary prudent and cautious man under the circumstances to believe criminal activity is at hand." People v. Cantor 36 NY2d 106 at pp. 112-113 (1975). Probable cause has been defined as stated herein above. Probable cause is a higher standard of evidence than reasonable suspicion, but is certainly less that that required for criminal conviction. However, it is significant that the Courts have rejected the Ingle standard and now embrace the more stringent probable cause standard in regards to traffic violations. [*3]
The particular Vehicle and Traffic Law section which the officer relies on to justify the stop must also be closely examined because on occasion, the courts have found that the officer made a mistake of law and ruled the stop invalid. Where the officer's belief is based on an erroneous interpretation of law, the stop is illegal at the outset and any further actions by the police as a direct result of the stop are illegal. Byer v. Jackson 241 AD2d 943 (Fourth Dept. 1997).
The two issues for this hearing to determine are: 1) whether or not Niagara County Deputy Sheriff Timothy Caughel had probable cause to stop the Vehicle driven by the Defendant, and 2) was that stop based on a mistake of law.
Section 375(3) of the Vehicle and Traffic Law
"Headlamps required pursuant to the provisions of subdivision two of this section may be of the multiple beam type designed to produce more than one distribution of light or of the single beam type designed to produce only one distribution of light.
Provided that, whenever a vehicle approaching from ahead is within five hundred feet, or when approaching a moving vehicle from the rear and within two hundred feet of the same, the headlamps, if of the multiple beam type, or the auxiliary front facing lamps, if the vehicle is so equipped, shall be operated so that dazzling light does not interfere with the driver of the approaching vehicle, or the vehicle being approached, and, whenever the highway is so lighted or traffic thereon is such that illumination of the highway for more than two hundred feet ahead of the vehicle by lights on such vehicle is unnecessary or impracticable, the headlamps, if of the multiple beam type, or the auxiliary front facing lamps, if the vehicle is so equipped, shall be operated with the lowermost distribution of light in use. Nothing contained in this subdivision shall be construed to prevent the use of flashing high beams to signify an intention to pass a vehicle or vehicles when two or more vehicles are traveling in the same direction, the operation of any headlamp as defined in paragraph d of subdivision two of this section, nor shall it apply to any auxiliary front facing lamp permitted to be displayed only on an authorized emergency vehicle."
On June 23, 2010, Niagara County Sheriff Deputy Timothy Caughel was on a routine patrol in a marked patrol car on Bowmiller Road in the Town of Lockport at approximately 1:30 a.m. He was north bound on Bowmiller Road when a motor vehicle driven by the defendant in the south bound direction approached him. The weather was clear and dry with visibility about one half mile even though there were no street lights . At a distance of two hundred feet, defendant turned his bright lights on his vehicle for 2.5 seconds until he passed Caughel. Caughel did not have his high beams on when closing with the defendant, but the deputy was operating a Chevy Tahoe which has lights higher and brighter than a normal patrol car. The action of the defendant caused Caughel to look away from the bright head beams, slow down and pull over. Caughel admits the 2.5 seconds would be the time for a driver to flash his brights on and off. Caughel thought the statute required a need to dim headlights at 500 feet, but did not know of the [*4]necessity of the oncoming lights to impair the other operator. Caughel then made a U-turn and followed defendant to the intersection of Bowmiller and Dysinger Roads where the defendant stopped and completed a right hand turn. Caughel followed him for about one (1) mile, then activated his over head lights and defendant was stopped on Dysinger Road [FN1]
Deputy Caughel's testimony was truthful, straight forward, candid and credible and, but for cross examination, uncontroverted. Clearly, Deputy Caughel observed what he thought was a violation of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, which would justify the stop of the defendant's motor vehicle. Whether or not Caughel charged the Defendant under the correct section of the Vehicle and Traffic Law or even charged any underlying violation is academic. The Fourth Department in People vs. Schroeder 229 AD2d 917 (1996) has indicated that a police officer is authorized to stop a motor vehicle on a public highway when the officer observes a violation of the Vehicle and Traffic Law (see, People v. Lamanda, 205 AD2d 934, 935 613 NYS2d 755, Iv denied 84 NY2d 828, 617 NYS2d 148, 641 NE2d 169; People v. May, 191 AD2d 1011, 1012, 595 NYS2d 165, Iv denied 81 NY2d 1016, 600 NYS2d 204, 616 NE2d 861; see also, People v. Ellis, 62 NY2d 393, 396, 477 NYS2d 106, 465 NE2d 826). It is clear Deputy Caughel stopped the defendant for failure to dim his high beam head lights. Only after the stop did Caughel notice the initial indicia of intoxication of the defendant, leading to a failure of sobriety tests and the arrest for driving while intoxicated in violation of Section 1192(3) of the Vehicle and Traffic Law.
This was not a pretext stop. In any event Whren (Whren vs. United States, 517 US 806, 116 S.Ct. 1749) as adopted by the Court of Appeals in People vs. Robinson (97 NY2d 341, 741 NYS2d 147) allows this type of stop. See specifically People vs. Reynolds fact pattern decided with Robinson.
The real issue before this court is whether or not the deputy's belief that a violation of VTL §375(3) had occurred was based on an erroneous interpretation of law. Here the deputy admirably admitted he was unaware of the statutory requirement of the necessity of impairment to the oncoming driver, even though he was forced to slow down and look away from high beam lights coming from the defendant's car.[FN2] The court finds the deputy would have stopped the defendant regardless of whether or not he had to look away, slow down and pull over. The People cite People v. Rorris, 52 AD3d 869, 859 NYS2d 272 (Third Dept. — 2008) wherein a trooper observed a vehicle with its high beams on, which caused a dangerous glare, was ruled a proper stop. But the testimony in Rorris is different than here. In Rorris, the
"State Trooper testified at the suppression hearing that on the morning in question, he was on routine patrol heading east on a particular road. As a westbound vehicle came within 200 to 300 feet of his marked vehicle, it appeared that it was operating with its headlights on high beam. [*5]The glare was so strong that the Trooper had to squint his eyes, hold up his hand to block the glare and pull to the side of the road. The Trooper immediately turned around and initiated a traffic stop." p. 870.
Here, the defendant had his low beams on and only when he approached the Chevy Tahoe with higher and brighter lights did he turn on his high beams. Nor did Deputy Caughel immediately pursue the defendant and stop him. Rather, Caughel followed the defendant for over a mile on two different roads before a stop was initiated. Caughel concedes the defendant's actions could have been in a time frame to flash his bright beams on and off. The fact that the defendant had his bright beams on when stopped can be explained because he turned them back on just as well as leaving them on all the time.
The Court of Appeals has indicated: "The mere flashing of lights, alone, does not constitute a violation of the statute (see People v. Meola, 7 NY2d 391, 397 ; People v. Hines, 155 AD2d 722, 724 , lv denied 76 NY2d 736 ; People v. Lauber, 162 Misc 2d 19, 20 ).
Our own Fourth Department, on a similar fact pattern, in 2009, reversed a conviction in the Steuben County Court (See People vs. Rose, cited, supra ). This court is bound by that case. This court finds the stop of defendant's automobile was based on an erroneous interpretation of the law by the arresting officer. Accordingly, Defendant's motion to suppress all evidence obtained as the result of the stop of his vehicle is granted and the accusatory instruments are dismissed.
Dated:November 16, 2010
Lockport, New York
Hon. Leonard G. Tilney, Jr., Lockport Town Justice
Caughel also testified that the defendant crossed over the center line of Dysinger, but it is clear to the court that defendant was only stopped for violating Section 375(3) of the Vehicle and Traffic Law. See Supporting Deposition amplifying the reason for the stop.
Defendant argues Deputy Caughel exaggerated his testimony after conferencing with the ADA. This is rejected by the court as the Deputy admitted he thought the statute required only that high beam headlights be dimmed (p 24 of hearing transcript and supporting deposition).