Judge Bryce Morgan shook his head and frowned. He closed his eyes and imagined the image he projected to the courtroom—an image calculated to elicit respect from everyone. He’d worn the black robes of justice for thirty of his sixty-eight years and his full head of grey hair combined with thick neck and puffy cheeks made the frown seem more like a scowl, jowls shaking with each jerk. He slowly shook his head and snickered under his breath as he realized what the shaking jowls meant—he needed to lose weight if he wanted to enjoy his retirement in two years. Morgan moved his right hand to his mouth to cover the smile, then dropped it, revealing the scowl he’d worked so hard to perfect. He opened his eyes and glared downward at the prosecutor, then toward the back of the room where Officer Steven Cross sat in the gallery, alone. He looked at the defendant, a young black man just a couple years older than the judge’s own grandson. He smirked. “You are one lucky kid,” he said.
Morgan scanned the yellow legal pad on the top of his bench. He’d filled it with illegible scribbles that only he could decipher along with a few easy to read words scattered about. He tapped his pen on the paper and mouthed a few of the legible ones then underlined a few for emphasis.
Probable cause for stop. Check.
Probable cause for arrest. No.
Probable cause to search the vehicle. Hell no,
He looked up from the bench and across the courtroom. He loved his courtroom. Though the exterior of the 13-floor county building was modern, the inside of his courtroom was not. Oak paneled walls surrounded him. No formica in this room. The waste high wall that separated the litigants and judge from the gallery—the bar—was also well crafted oak, freshly stained from the room’s renovation and modernization two years before. Old School looks with the modern touch of a networked flatscreen monitor for displaying exhibits and PowerPoint presentations along with laptop and HDMI connections for plaintiffs, defendants, and the judge.
He tapped on the legal pad then glanced up at his dark, powerless computer screen. Old School. He smiled as he looked at the prosecutor and stared. The prosecutor squirmed in his chair and looked down, as if he knew that what he was about to hear wouldn’t be good. Morgan nodded, fighting the urge to smile. Good.
“I have never seen a more pitiful piece of ... police work,” he said as he resumed frowning and shaking his head. “Mr. Banks, what disturbs me more is that you, representing the State of Kansas, didn’t dismiss this case before we arrived at this juncture. Can you please explain this to me?”
Banks shrugged as he slowly stood. The right corner of his mouth curled up slightly and his mouth parted. “We didn’t see it that way, Your Honor. This was a good stop and Officer Cross has years of experience investigating drug crimes. We believed his two decades of training and experience along with his observations during the stop gave him sufficient grounds to search the car." He stood straighter and puffed out his chest. "We support our officer one-hundred percent.”
Morgan frowned as he looked at Cross, who sneered back. You arrogant SOB. Morgan shook his head and looked down at his notes. The words Hell no screamed back at him. He looked at Banks. “I see. Well, just so the record’s straight…” He looked to the court reporter to his right, who looked up and nodded as she arched her fingers on her miniature keyboard, then at the parties, alternating looks between the defendant, his attorney, and the prosecutor. “…the record reflects that this incident began with a routine traffic stop. Speeding just eight miles over the forty-mile-per-hour limit. Upon making contact with the defendant, Officer Cross claims the defendant appeared wired via jerking head and eyes, and seemed to be hesitant to produce his drivers license, insurance, and registration information. I also note than it was eleven p.m. since Officer Cross seems to think this was a factor in how he handled this investigation. Officer Cross, thinking the defendant, based on the above observations, was high on drugs, pulled out his sidearm and ordered the defendant to get out of the car. The videotape recording reveals that the defendant did as told. Officer Cross cuffed the defendant and put him in his patrol car. Officer Cross then proceeded to search the defendant’s vehicle. He found a bag of marijuana and scales underneath the front passenger seat.”
Morgan smiled, looked at Banks, then frowned. “All the cases I reviewed indicate that these observations provide super thin cause to believe a crime has occurred or will occur—certainly not enough to equate to probable cause. More important, since the defendant was secured in the patrol vehicle, there was no warrantless search exception such as weapons—the defendant was nowhere near the car so couldn’t grab such weapons—or an inventory search since the vehicle was legally parked on the side of the road where the stop occurred so couldn’t, without more information, be towed. Indeed, it’s important to note that the car wasn’t towed. The defendant’s grandmother arrived at the scene thirty minutes later and drove the car to her house. Search incident to arrest is no longer legal in Kansas, so that certainly doesn’t save this case.”
He nodded his head then looked at the defendant. He pointed a long, thick, fleshy finger toward him. “Mr. Downs, I see kids like you in this courtroom weekly. It usually starts with something like this, but goes downhill from there. You have two choices, as I see it. You will learn from this unfortunate situation by never using drugs again and keep your nose clean, or think you got away with another crime and keep doing what you did to get into trouble this time, only the next time the stakes with be much higher.” He leaned back into his high-backed, black leather chair. “I, for my part, have no choice but to grant your motion to dismiss since this search was clearly illegal. You have a decision to make. Either stop acting like a moron and rebellious youth, or get your head on straight and become a responsible citizen.”
Cross stood, shook his head, glared at the back of the defendant’s head, then stormed out of the courtroom.
Morgan grinned, slapped his gavel on the desk, then looked at the prosecutor. “Now that all evidence is history, does the State have a motion?”
Banks paused as he looked up at Morgan then at the defense attorney.
Please file an interlocutory appeal so the whole world will know how incompetent you are, Morgan thought.
Instead of that announcement, Banks nodded and said, “State moves to dismiss all charges without prejudice.”
“Objection?” Morgan said as he looked at the defense lawyer.
“No, Your Honor,” Mark Evans, the middle-aged and slightly balding defense attorney said through a toothy grin.“Motion granted. Charges and case dismissed.” Judge Morgan slammed his gavel on the bench, stood, then walked through a door behind his bench and out of the courtroom.
Copyright © 2014 Kevin Mark Smith