Suspiciously Polite

An unconstitutional search


On December 12, 2012, on an Ohio state highway, Patrolman Jared Haslar pulled over Joshua Fontaine for driving 45 miles per hour in a 35 miles per hour zone. According to a subsequent court ruling, Haslar became "suspicious of criminal activity" after Fontaine exhibited "unusual" body language and behavior. "He was extremely-like almost overly polite," Haslar testified, "and he was breathing heavily at times while I was talking to him."

Haslar believed this behavior provided reasonable suspicion that Fontaine was up to no good, so he brought the man back to his patrol car, where he patted him down for weapons and wrote up a traffic ticket. At this point, a second officer arrived with a drug-sniffing dog. The dog reportedly indicated that it smelled illicit material, so the officers searched the vehicle, uncovering a loaded .40-caliber handgun and a bag of marijuana.

The trial court suppressed the firearm and marijuana, concluding that too much time had passed between the initial stop and the search and that excessive politeness does not constitute probable cause to search a vehicle. Ohio's Eighth District Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's ruling. As soon as Haslar finished writing the citation, it said, Fontaine should have been free to go in the absence of evidence that he was involved in criminal activity.

"We agree with the trial court," wrote Judge Mary J. Boyle, "that 'overly polite' and 'heavy breathing' are not sufficient indicators that give rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity."