[FoRK] Citizen's Arrest!

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Sat Nov 26 23:52:34 PST 2011

I dashed off a new introduction for someone else.  For FoRK it is at the end if you are interested.

Interesting reading:
le.alcoda.org is: "Welcome Law Enforcement Officers & Prosecutors, Welcome to the Alameda County District Attorney's website for 
law enforcement officers and prosecutors."

Good to keep at hand: http://dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/vc/vctoc.htm

Now, note that A) I'm still learning some details and need hands-on testing, B) I still have a case in play testing 
constitutionality of related topics (but assuming that bias and inertia runs so deep that it won't be a fair fight), and C) 
please chuckle and pass it on.  But I'm serious.  If this doesn't get addressed properly, I'll expand or escalate as necessary 
and convenient.

Thanksgiving episode: Dude, don't almost run me over and almost definitely give the wrong person a ticket after breaking the 
(letter of the) law more than anyone on the road:

(Slightly edited.)
November 26, 2011
California Highway Patrol - San Jose office of Golden Gate Division
2020 Junction Avenue
San Jose, CA 95131-2187
(No public email address.  Submitted by web form "email" here: http://www.chp.ca.gov/publications/ccp.html.)

Re: Report of Citizen Arrest of unknown CHP officer & request for citation

1) At between 6:45pm and 6:55pm on November 26, 2011, I observed the following:

2) I was traveling in moderate, free-flowing traffic southbound on Interstate highway 280, through the Las Gatos area, several 
miles north of the Highway 85 junction.  All traffic was traveling at about the same speed with no noticeable weaving or 
dangerous activity.

3) I noticed a CHP officer’s cruiser parked on the right highway road side just past an exit ramp, with the officer standing 
behind the cruiser.  More than two minutes later, I noticed a vehicle being driven erratically and at very high speed 
approaching from the rear.  I could clearly see the vehicle weaving rapidly between the boundaries of the lane, at least coming 
close to interfering with other vehicles.  The vehicle was clearly traveling faster than was reasonably safe given the vehicle 
weight, tires, suspension, and driver’s ability.  There was clear drift, steering instability, mass / wheel following, and over 
correction.  The road itself was smooth, clear, and would support safe driving at similar speeds with a better vehicle and 
driver, although the amount of traffic and common speed did not support this level at the time.  Several vehicles had to move 
over quickly.  I observed the vehicle passing our vehicle in the left lane at what was, based on my estimation, to be more than 
100 miles per hour.  As the vehicle passed, I saw that it was a CHP vehicle.  This was the only CHP cruiser observed on 280 from 
San Bruno down to that point.

4) The CHP cruiser approached and passed at high speed with no safety lights enabled, no flashing headlights, or anything to 
signal that the officer was in pursuit as part of official business.

5) I then observed the CHP cruiser rapidly decelerate and tailgating another driver who was in the left lane.  This continued, 
with the cruiser much less than a car length from the followed vehicle, for at least 20 seconds.  Finally, the vehicle moved 
over and the patrol vehicle again rapidly accelerated away at which point I lost sight as all four lanes were filled with 
traffic.  Nearly two minutes later, the CHP vehicle was observed on the right side of the roadway behind a gray or tan Mazda, 
finally with his emergency lights flashing.

6) I observed the John Doe officer breaking the following statutes:

 1. VC 21703 Following Too Closely.
 2. VC 22348 Excessive Speed and Designated Lane Use: subsections a & b.
 3. VC 22350 Basic Speed Law
 4. VC 22349 Maximum Speed Limit: subsection a.
 5. VC 23103 Reckless Driving - Not only were the actions of the officer clearly reckless, and would have been immediately
    ticketed as such by an officer observing a civilian, but the only dangerous thing observed on the highway for 40 miles was
    this officer’s conduct.

7) I was unable to closely follow the officer, as this would conflict with VC Section 21706 and would not clearly be legal to 
break speed limit laws in hot pursuit for a civilian, not to mention the impracticality and possible negative outcomes of a 
formal citizens arrest of an armed officer on a dark highway.  Therefore, with the expediency afforded by safe travel home and 
properly writing this up, I hereby:

 1. Request that the officer be identified through records and evidence that the department has ready access to.
 2. Report a citizen’s arrest of the above identified John Doe officer and ask and delegate that an officer be assigned to take
    the identified officer into custody.
 3. Request that the officer be cited as noted in 6).
 4. Report to the arrested driver in a timely manner that I am a material witness to his arrest and citation.

8) Note that the exception of VC 21055 “Exception of Authorized Emergency Vehicles” does not apply as the condition in 21055 b) 
was not met.  Additionally, this statute does not exempt an officer from offenses in Division 11 Chapter 12 Article 1, which 
includes VC 23103.

Thank you,

Stephen Williams

(This is a new short introduction.  There's a lot more detail elsewhere.)

I respect and honor the police in most circumstances.  However, there are examples of police enforcement that seems very 
cynical, basically unconstitutional, and effectively illegal.  To be clear, this is often an argument against department policy, 
not the officers dutifully following that policy.  (Abusing peaceful protesters would be an example where both are at fault.)  
In cases where people are being reasonably safe, such as driving safely and within their ability but technically speeding on a 
clear, straight highway, the problem is obvious to most people.  For a modern high performance vehicle (and many are), an 
excellent driver, and the right conditions, the additional risk is insignificant and an attractive tradeoff for less wasted 
time.  While things like running a red light or stop sign or going fast in a school zone are always "probably risky" and 
therefore valid "strict liability" law infractions, other cases seem much less valid.  "Strict liability" refers to laws where 
no actual harm may have been done in a particular case, but there was a significant probability of harm.  The problem is that 
many "strict liability" laws are easy to over apply to cases where there is no significant probability of harm but there may be 
a significant negative impact to life, liberty, and happiness.  This can boil down to an unconstitutional restriction.

Overzealous enforcement of the letter of the law, apparently as a form of taxation, while the very same officers illegally 
ignore many of the same traffic laws, is likely unconstitutional for one or more reasons.  The apparently incestuous 
interrelationships between lower courts, law enforcement departments, local and state government, politicians, and revenue from 
the now-severe penalties involved seems difficult to reform.  However there seems to be a good argument for a constitutional 
test for the application of traffic and similar laws that takes into account where there was actual enhanced risk in a 
particular situation.

The Executive branch can't have it both ways:  Either traffic safety (and similar) laws are enforced based on the presence of 
significant extra risk in a particular case or they are adhered to strictly because breaking them incurs significant risk.  
Officers frequently ignore the letter of the law when it is convenient to them, then selectively enforce it when it suits them 
or their department.  There are plenty of bad and/or inexperienced drivers making bad judgments who should be stopped and 
corrected and there are some areas where driving is fundamentally dangerous.  However, in many other cases, the most dangerous 
drivers on the road are officers who are preying on drivers who were traveling safely before the officer was involved.  Often 
this is done in ways that are far more unsafe than the supposedly unsafe infraction the driver is being taxed for.  Furthermore, 
when an officer does something that is safe enough, but still breaking the letter of the law or would be if they weren't 
authorized, they are confirming that the spirit of the law is to avoid doing things that are unsafe.  Yet some of the tickets 
they write cynically contradict that fact.  The core problem is that least common denominator laws that penalize nearly everyone 
for the mistakes (accidents and excessive risks) of a few are inefficient, can waste life more than they save, and are at odds 
with precedents in other areas.  In First Amendment cases for instance, the Supreme Court has strictly enforced the concept that 
the government has to use the "least restrictive means" to accomplish a goal.

It's difficult to see how to improve this situation since everyone with a hand in the system has heavy incentives to keep it in 
place or enhance it.  In the mean time, at least there should be some oversight of police actions that are outright dangerous.

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