The Campaign For DA

12.17.2019

Random Tuesday Morning Thoughts


  • The "Wise County Crime Report" published by the Messenger is a collection of incidents responded to by the Wise County Sheriff's Office. Normally they are funny or goofy but every now and then I'll see something newsworthy. A faithful reader sent me one yesterday which is more than worthy of multiple bullet points. Preface: If you are a, "If you ain't doing nothing wrong, you ain't got nothing to worry about" person, you can move along. 
    • In that blurb, somewhat innocently, we learn the Sheriff's Office uses "The Vigilant System" (not "Vigilante" but "Vigilant" -- although I justifiably keep reading it that way) that not only reads your license plate but also links into some kind of database of other license plate reader entries. 
    • We learned in this one random drug story that the system reading the license plate is capable of informing a deputy that the vehicle had been "in South Carolina within the last two weeks along with a trail back to California." Wow.
    • What's the reason it's a big deal? First, I've read hundreds of WCSO reports over the years (and DPS reports) and not once have they mentioned The Vigilant System. I've suspected it existed, but I've never seen it admitted it print. (I really want to know how the Messenger reporter so easily stumbled on this information.) 
    • I'll admit that a license plate reader in a cop car isn't that big of a deal in itself. The cop can read your license plate with his own eyes. But it's the collection of data that The Vigilant System hooks into that really gets my attention. 
    • For years, I've suspected there are data collecting license plate readers not only in cop cars but also along the side of the road that we might not even be aware of. Heck, some are obvious. I've mentioned a couple of times about the reader over 287 as you are about to merge with southbound I-35 right past Harmon Road in Fort Worth. Even if you don't take the new toll road (by exiting to the left), you go under a license plate reader before you merge onto the normal/free I-35. Why?
    • You know what I think really happened in this case? Before the stop for the "equipment violation", the deputy's car automatically scanned a car's license plate and it told him him it had been from South Carolina to California. That car obviously had had its license plate scanned by other cops and/or license plate readers above/along highways in other states and counties and fed into a database. The deputy then wanted to stop the vehicle because we've got a cross country traveler and cross country travelers might/possibly/who-really-knows-if-they-do have drugs on them. But you can't stop someone for simply traveling cross country so he stopped the vehicle for an "equipment violation." From there he asked for consent to search and, when refused, brought in the magic drug dog. 
    • But this is what is happening all the time in Wise County and here's the bigger picture ever since Colorado has legalized weed: We've got Sheriff's deputies, who used to promptly respond to burglaries and disturbances of rural Wise County citizens, patrolling 287 in cars equipped with The Vigilant System. If the System alerts them that the car is coming from Colorado, they find a pre-text reason to stop the car like an "equipment violation." Others include: Three miles over the speed limit (I've seen it), in Left Lane Not Passing (that's a big one), and Changing Lanes Without Signaling. They then ask questions unrelated to the traffic stop of questionable constitutionality, persuade the driver into giving consent, and, if they don't get it  -- and praying that a judge will say they have a "reasonable suspicion" to justify continuing to detain the driver -- bring in a drug dog of questionable skills which always seems to "hit" even on drugs that don't produce a smell (i.e, Colorado edibles, "vacuum sealed" weed, or pills.)
    • Legally speaking, the most critical aspect of the cop's interaction with the driver in that scenario is the moment he doesn't consent to search. At that point, the cop must write him a ticket/warning and let him go unless there is a reasonable suspicion to continue to detain him for other possible crimes. That's what bugs me about the "secret" existence of the Vigilant System. It's the real reason why the cop stopped the car and wants to search it in the first place. But they can't legally do that on Vigilant data alone. That's why every report I've read doesn't mention it. Instead, I read "independent" reasons like "the driver seemed nervous", "his carotid artery was pulsing" (yep, really), he "wouldn't make eye contact", and "breathing heavily." Throw in a past arrest for weed or a passenger not giving the exact same explanation as to "where you headed" or "where you been?" and they try to create the existence of reasonable suspicion. Sure they might throw in that the driver told them they were coming from Colorado (heaven forbid!) to try and bolster their claim of a "reasonable suspicion" but the cops already knew that from the start.
    • For all of you who like legal stuff, all of this is right out of Rodriguez vs. United States. Read it with the above scenario in mind and ask yourself: What exactly can the cops legally do once they stop you? (And are the questions of "Where you headed to" and "where you been" really related to the purpose of the traffic stop?)
    • Should you care about all this? You should. But I can't make you. And I suspect most of you won't. It's the new human nature not to care about anything unless it impacts you directly. 
    • And you want to know the scary part? I only learn about the cases where drugs are found. You and I aren't going to hear about the guy coming through the county for work or for vacation who was subjected to an hour long search of his personal stuff -- a search that led to the discovery of nothing and the driver is sent on his way. But you'll dang sure see it happen if you drive up and down 287 with any frequency.
    • #RantOver
  • In other normal bullet points:
    • The Richard Jewell movie bombed with only $5 million at the box office.
    • A concurring opinion came out from the Fifth Circuit by a Trump appointee which is a Pro-Life proponent's dream.
    • I don't know why this makes me giggle so much: 
    • A month ago, there was a school bond election in Midland that passed by 11 votes. Now they found another ballot box full of votes.
    • Bad lawyer.
    • Yesterday, “Curtis Flowers walked out of jail at 4 p.m. Monday, 23 years, six trials, and four death sentences after the day he first walked in.”  That's a lot to digest.  If you want to go down a rabbit hole, start researching this case where the same Mississippi DA kept excluding blacks from the jury, getting reversed, and doing it all again. The Supreme Court, just last year, was the most recent court to reverse his conviction.