The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on October 6, 2014 in the criminal appeal case of Heien v. North Carolina. On April 29, 2009, Heien was pulled over for a traffic stop where he was the passenger. Heien was with his friend Vasquez. They each gave inconsistent stories about where they were going. Heien is the owner of the vehicle and consented to the search of his vehicle. Sergeant Darisse found cocaine in the vehicle and charged them with drug trafficking. Heien argued that Darisse did not have reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop. The car only had a one working rear brake light and Heien argued that the statute only calls for one working light. The language of the North Carolina statute is vague and the State argued that even if there was a mistake of law, the traffic stop was still valid.
Heien appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals (COA) of North Carolina who interpreted the statute as requiring only one light. The COA stated that the stop then became invalid and illegal because of the police officer’s “mistake of law” about how many brake lights are required. The COA believed a mistake of law is automatically unreasonable and revered the trial court’s decision. The Supreme Court of North Carolina decided that police officers should be able to make traffic stops on their reasonable interpretations of the law and reversed the COA’s decision. Heien then brought a criminal appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court will look to whether mistake of law is enough to meet the reasonable suspicion standard required when initiating a traffic stop. Heien believes that police would take advantage of all ambiguities in the law and lack incentive to learn and act in accordance with the law if the stop of his vehicle is valid.
The decision in this criminal appeal case will be important in criminal law. The decision in this case will have an impact on criminal cases in Minnesota and how they are handled. Max Keller has handled many criminal appeal cases. He has appealed many decisions to the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Minnesota. Keller Law Offices has won appeals in both the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Minnesota Suprejme Court. If you are looking for an experienced criminal defense attorney to file a criminal appeal for you, contact Keller Law Offices for a free consultation. There are many strict deadlines in an appeals case, so contact Max Keller as soon as possible.