Menne v. State: Lesson in the Subjectivity of Reasonable Suspicion

8 02 2012

It is extremely rare that the Arkansas Court of Appeals decides a questionable case in favor of the defendant.  It is even rarer that the Arkansas Supreme Court overrules a Court of Appeals decision of whether there was reasonable suspicion.  I have a few problems with the decision in Menne v. State besides the outcome.

The case was very straightforward.  The facts are that Defendant was stopped for speeding.  She was detained to run the license and registration.  After the officer completed his typical checks, he asked Defendant to step out of the car.  After speaking to Defendant for a minute he asked if she would consent to a search of her vehicle.  She complied. 

The issue was two-fold.  First, whether the stop had ended even though the officer had not given the documents back to Defendant.  Second, if the stop had ended, whether the officer had reasonable suspicion to further detain Defendant to ask for consent to search.

First, Rule 2-4(c) of the Arkansas Supreme Court lays out reasons for granting a Petition for Review from a decision of the Court of Appeals.  The reasons are: a tie vote, conflict with another published decision, or if the case could have initially been filed with Arkansas Supreme Court instead of the Court of Appeals.  None of these seem to apply.  The case was not a tie vote below, it did not conflict with any other published decision, and it certainly could not have initially been filed with the Arkansas Supreme Court.  The only rationale asserted was surely a conflict with another case, but how can a judgment call on reasonable suspicion be in conflict with a case involving different facts?  This case should not have been reviewed.  The Supreme Court’s acceptance of this case effectively means the Supreme Court is willing to error correct in cases it so chooses.  That is not supposed to be the function of the Supreme Court.

Second, the majority states that they need not decide the issue of whether the stop ended because the officer possessed reasonable suspicion for continued detention.  The problem is that the majority specifically does answer that issue by stating, “The stop, however, had not ended because the warning ticket had not been given to Menne.”  The majority was clearly upset by the strong worded attacks from the dissenting justices and could not refrain from firing back.  Regardless, the rule coming out of this case is that an officer can detain a person for as long as he so desires as long as he does not give the person’s paperwork back to them and issue them a ticket.  What a great rule!  The dissenting opinion by Justice Baker (“the great dissenter”) cites multiple U.S. Supreme Court cases for the proposition that a stop cannot be legally prolonged byond the time reasonably required to complete the purpose of the stop. 

Lastly, the majority found reasonable suspicion b/c it was late, Defendant was nervous, and Defendant had been arrested for drugs before.  Anyone asserting that Defendant had drugs in the car based on those facts is doing so based on complete conjecture.  Although those facts are found in A.C.A. 16-81-203 as grounds for reasonable suspicion, together they do not amount to anything more than a hunch Defendant has drugs in the vehicle.  Consequently, I cannot fathom how the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled this way or even accepting the case on review from the Court of Appeals.


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