Judges take an oath to uphold the federal and state constitution, and this includes protecting people from overly aggressive police officers who abuse the powers afforded to law enforcement. The Fourth Amendment protects “against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Courts have consistently held that stopping a motor vehicle constitutes a seizure, no matter how brief, and police require reasonable suspicion to effectuate a traffic stop.
But what happens when the Judge is guided by revenue pressure instead of the Constitution? Hometownlife.com reports the following:
February 22, 2009
Court: Less tickets lead to deficit
By Darrell Clem
OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
Westland 18th District Court will have to erase a $659,000 budget shortfall by June 30 or dump the problem on city leaders who already are facing a money crunch that could potentially threaten services and trigger more job cuts.
District judges and court officials, saying they helped prop up the city’s budget with nearly $2 million during the last two years alone, conceded Thursday during talks with city leaders that they are grappling with a deficit.
Chief Judge Sandra Ference Cicirelli attributed the revenue shortfall largely to a collective decision by Westland police to curb their ticket-writing efforts last summer. Officials said the slowdown was in response to a now-resolved labor dispute with the city administration.
“The tickets that generate the revenue just weren’t being written,” Cicirelli said, citing a 2,000 drop in traffic tickets.
. . . .
In another revenue-busting move, Councilman Charles Pickering criticized what he called a “conscious decision” by city officials to reduce alcohol-enforcement efforts, but Police Chief James Ridener said he had to trim overtime costs at a time when he had to assign officers to respond to a spike in crime. Ridener said calls for help rose from 43,000 just two years ago to 55,000 in 2008.
. . . .
Moreover, court officials have indicated that they can increase their revenue as long as police officers issue tickets.
“If we have the work,” Cicirelli said, “we can generate the funds.”
Just one drunken driving ticket brings in $1,400 to the city, she said. Last year, however, city officials sparred over allegations by some local bars that police officers were being too aggressive- and hurting their business- by stopping drivers as soon as they drove off.
. . . .
On several occasions, video tapes obtained from the patrol cars of Westland Police officers have revealed unlawful stops. Judge Cicirelli refuses to review dozens of cases holding that these traffic stops are unlawful, maintaining that federal opinions are not binding on Michigan courts unless directly from the US Supreme Court. She also takes the position that police officers can see more than what is revealed on video cameras. And in a very recent case, after flawless driving was recorded by an in-car video, a Westland Police Officer testified, “In addition to weaving within the lane traffic, I saw the car leaving a bar parking lot.” Judge Cicirelli ruled consistent with her prior decisions: The traffic stop was lawful because the officer could see more.
There is no question that Westland officers routinely commit unlawful traffic stops. The “allegations by some local bars that police officers were being too aggressive” have been repeated, recorded and brought to the judge’s attention. Except, these police officers aren’t being “too aggressive.” They are breaking the law. It seems that Judge Cicirelli does not want to curb this behavior; to the contrary, it looks like she is encouraging more of these unlawful stops. But the $1,400.00 that the district court makes on each drunk driving case goes a long way towards soothing Constitutional concerns.