Even if an Oklahoma police officer stops a motorist on an invalid charge, the driver must submit to the officer. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals addressed this issue in a ruling handed down September 18, 2015. State v. Nelson, 2015 OK CR 10.
Nathan Charles Nelson was stopped for Failure to Signal a left hand turn on March 19, 2014. There were only two cars on the road at the time of the turn: the car driver by Mr. Nelson and the police officer’s car. Mr. Nelson, feeling he was the victim of a bogus stop, refused to cooperate with the officer. He immediately parked his car and began to leave as the officer was writing a ticket. Despite being ordered to stop, Nelson attempted to walk away. The officer arrested Mr. Nelson and charged him with the following offenses:
- Obstructing an Officer (Count 1), in violation of 21 O.S., § 540;
- Resisting an Officer (Count 2), in violation of 21 O.S., § 268;
- Failure to Carry Insurance/Security Verification Form (Count 3), in violation of 47 O.S., § 7-606; and
- Failure to Signal (Count 4), in violation of 47 O.S, § 11-604.
The trial court ruled the traffic stop was illegal and therefore, all charges were dismissed. The state prosecutors appealed, and this decision followed.
Under Oklahoma law, turn signals are only necessary when other traffic is affected:
“No person shall so turn any vehicle without giving an appropriate signal as provided in subsection B of this section, in the event any other traffic may be affected by such movement,” 47 O.S., § 11-604.
The court held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding the stop illegal:
“…the record surrounding the initial stop in the present case is less than ideal…the mere fact that Officer Turnbough’s police car and Appellee’s vehicle were the only two vehicles on the roadway at the time of the alleged traffic infraction does not dictate a finding that the initial stop was illegal. However, the record does not provide any indication of where Officer Turnbough’s vehicle was in relation to Appellee’s vehicle to determine if Appellee’s failure to signal may have affected other traffic for purposes of § 11-604. Moreover, Officer Turnbough testified Appellee could make the left turn safely into the parking lot….Thus, based upon the limited facts presented in this matter, we cannot conclude the trial court abused its discretion when it ruled the initial stop was illegal.”
However, even though the court agreed the stop was illegal, it refused to suppress the obstruction charge.
“We cannot find that [Nelson’s] alleged obstructive behavior to be the product of Officer Turnbough’s illegal stop,” Judge Hudson wrote. “[Nelson’s] decision to behave as he did was an independent and voluntary act which broke the link to any taint caused by the illegal stop.”
“The typical motorist simply is not equipped to make a determination of whether there is a legal basis for a traffic stop,” Judge Hudson concluded. “Whether the officer did, in hindsight, have probable cause to make the traffic stop should be resolved in a courtroom, not in the streets. To permit otherwise would effectively encourage drivers to engage in potentially explosive self-help methods. This, in turn, would increase the risk of escalating what should be a relatively benign interaction between law enforcement and a driver into a potentially dangerous or violent interaction.”