Last year, a man was pulled over for driving 45mph in a 35mph Ohio speed zone. The Ohio State Highway patrolman conducting the traffic stop, Jared Haslar, ultimately arrested the man for gun and marijuana possession after finding a .40 caliber Sig Sauer and a small bag of marijuana in the vehicle. The officer’s justification for the search of the car was that the driver, Joshua A. Fontaine, was acting too polite while he handed over his license, proof of insurance, and registration, according to The Newspaper.
It’s a testament to the times that a driver would be considered suspicious simply for being overly polite. It’s also a testament to the times that an overly polite driver was under the possession of both a weapon and marijuana, and that the police officer’s suspicion of the driver was, in fact, correct.
Fontaine’s conviction, however, was recently overturned by Ohio’s second highest court. The state’s Court of Appeals claimed that politeness was not an adequate cause for suspicion that could justifiably lead to the search of a vehicle.
During the trial, Haslar attempted to explain his reasons for searching the car but it came across as little more than a lucky hunch.
“While speaking to Mr. Fontaine I felt that his body language and his behavior was a little bit unusual. He was extremely - like almost overly polite, and he was breathing heavily at times while I was talking to him,” Haslar testified.
Haslar called in another officer who brought a drug-sniffing dog to the scene, which ultimately found a small bag of marijuana in Fontaine’s glove compartment.
Judge Mary J. Boyle explained the reasoning behind the ruling with the following statement, extracted from this full-length document containing the entire decision: “We agree with the trial court that ‘overly polite’ and ‘heavy breathing’ are not sufficient indicators that give rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. These factors considered collectively simply do not support such a finding. Since Patrolman Haslar did not have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to warrant the canine sniff, the prolonged detention to do so violated Fontaine’s constitutional Fourth Amendment rights.”