c. The Investigative Stop is Valid.
The standards for a Terry-type investigative stop and what qualifies as a reasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment were spelled out in detail in the January 22, 1996 Decision and Order of this Court, Bayless, 913 F. Supp. at 238-39, and also appear in the progeny of caselaw on this issue.
Looking at the totality of the circumstances, as I must, the facts now established satisfy the test commonly applied by the Courts: "a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity 'may be afoot.'" United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7, 104 L. Ed. 2d 1, 109 S. Ct. 1581 (1989) (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889, 88 S. Ct. 1868 (1968)). Officer Carroll and Sergeant Bentley together have articulated sufficient facts to create a reasonable suspicion that the defendant was involved in criminal activity when they made the decision to stop her car. Therefore, the investigative stop of the defendant in this case was valid.
Let me emphasize that I limited my inquiry to the investigative stop. Bayless, 913 F. Supp. at 238. In my view, once the officers established that the defendant violated New York's Vehicle and Traffic Law, they were entitled to arrest her, impound her vehicle, and consistent with department procedures, conduct an inventory search of the car. See Jan. Tr. at 15; N.Y. Vehicle and Traffic Law § 165.05 (McKinney 1995).
d. Additional Thoughts.
A legal opinion stands for a proposition of law, a holding. Additional material which is included in most opinions but which does not relate directly to the holding is known as dicta. Although dicta may color the holding of an opinion, it by no means constitutes a legal or factual conclusion. On that score, unfortunately the hyperbole (dicta) in my initial decision not only obscured the true focus of my analysis, but regretfully may have demeaned the law-abiding men and women who make Washington Heights their home and the vast majority of the dedicated men and women in blue who patrol the streets of our great City.
In this Decision and Order the Court has stated its basis for vacating its prior ruling and, although the Court has now determined that the Government shouldered its burden, the Government's success did not come easily. The facts of this case have consistently danced the fine line between a valid search and seizure so essential to the Government's criminal justice initiative and a trespass on citizens' rights. While it is clear that the Fourth Amendment operates to protect all members of our society from unreasonable searches and seizures, it is equally as unclear whether this protection exists to its fullest extent for people of color generally, and in inner-city neighborhoods in particular.
This Court and others will continue fearlessly to draw the line that separates "investigatory stops supported by 'specific, objective facts' from those stops occurring essentially at the 'unfettered discretion of officers in the field.'" Buenaventura-Ariza, 615 F.2d 29, 31 (quoting Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 51, 61 L. Ed. 2d 357, 99 S. Ct. 2637 (1979)). For as Justice Marshall warned:
Because the strongest advocates of Fourth Amendment rights are frequently criminals, it is easy to forget that our interpretations of such rights apply to the innocent and the guilty alike.