Supreme Court Rules 8-1 That An Officer’s Mistaken Belief The Law Was Violated Still Supported A Finding Of Reasonable Suspicion Because It Was A Reasonable Mistake
Sergeant Matt Darisse of the Surry County, North Carolina, Sheriff’s Department was observing traffic on Interstate 77 near the town of Dobson, NC, on the morning of Wednesday, April 29, 2009. Around 8:00 a.m., a Ford Escort passed his patrol car. Sergeant Darisse thought the driver looked “very stiff and nervous,” and so he began following the vehicle. Eventually, the Ford Escort applied its brakes when approaching a slowly moving vehicle, revealing to Sergeant Darisse that only the left brake light illuminated, while the right brake light did not. Sergeant Darisse believed that that a vehicle having an inoperative brake light violated state law, and so he activated his cruiser’s emergency lights and initiated a traffic stop based on the inoperative brake light.