Mistaken Identity?

This one involves my client, I'll call Sam.

Sam was pulled over after rounding a curve in the road. He was driving a maroon car. A motorist had called in from his cell phone to the Police. He reported the dangerous way a maroon car was driving. This conversation was recorded. Then the car turned off onto another road and the witness did not follow it any further.

And he reported a specific license plate number GBF 7390.

After a short while, two police cars began following a maroon car. These officers saw an infraction just before the curve I mentioned before. When rounding the curve, the car was out of sight of the officers for a short time.

After they had a maroon car back in sight, the pulled Sam over.

In court, the prosecuting attorney laid out his whole case, saying that because the driver of the car was weaving and driving erratically, the police had probable cause to arrest the driver for driving under the influence. The officer who was closest to Sam's car and who made him pull over was not in court. The other officer was.

In my statements to the judge I pointed out one thing in particular: the license plate number wasn't the same, so the stop wasn't reasonable to begin with. The police had pulled over a maroon car all right--with the license plate number GAW 2364.

Here's what the judge said:

"This is a very serious offense. For some reason the Prosecution has not provided the Court with the other officer. Inexplicable.

"A different license plate or a different car is the only reasonable explanation that the Court has right now based on Mr. Forslund's evidence that the car went out of sight and then when the officers did pull behind it, apparently it's a different car. How highly unlikely.

"I understand how highly unlikely that is, but the police did not provide the Court with the witness who followed the car. The police did not provide or the Prosecution did not provide the Court with the witness who followed the car and the police did not provide the Court with proof that the car that was reported by the unnamed witness and then by the police repeatedly to the dispatcher was in fact the same car that was stopped.

"I'm not convinced, so I will find that there is not reasonable suspicion to believe (Sam), even though he's driving a maroon car of the same make and model, in the same area where a maroon car apparently disappeared and he appeared.

"However highly unlikely that that is, I have to find that the Prosecution has not sustained their burden this morning. There was not reasonable suspicion to believe that the individual here in Court today, (Sam), was the individual that committed the careless driving and was reported by the unnamed informant to be a seriously, seriously impaired or ill, so I'll grant the Defendant's motions in their entirety . . . to suppress all the evidence from the time that the officer pulls up behind a maroon car bearing license plate GAW 2364 is suppressed."

As in the last example, the judge could not dismiss the case at that time. That happened at the next hearing soon after, because the Prosecutor now had no case. Again, my point is to show you that although it looked pretty open and shut that Sam was going to be successfully prosecuted for DUI, it wasn't quite that simple.