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Eleventh Circuit Upholds Jail for $15 Citation, Where Law Says No Jail
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the overnight jail time for a woman who was apprehended for failing to adjust her seatbelt and given a $15 ticket. However, the trooper who gave her the citation mistook her for another person with a pending arrest warrant. He took her in, and even after it was confirmed at the police station that she was not the absconding person, the police held her overnight in jail until her mother could arrive and post a $120 bond.
This was done, despite Georgia law saying that there was no jail time for the offense for which she had been arrested.
The 11th Circuit held it was alright citing the Supreme Court decision in Atwater v City of Lagos Vista, in which, the court found a police officer did not violate Fourth Amendment rights when he effected a custodial arrest for a violation that did not carry a jail time and had a maximum fine of $50.
In the instant case, Amanda Cruz was adjusting her seat belt at a traffic light and failed to place it properly before beginning to drive across the intersection. A Georgia State Trooper stopped her, then asked for her license and registration.
During the ID check, the police found another Amanda Cruz, who was a readhead with tattoos on her arms was had an outstanding arrest warrant.
Even though the woman before her pleaded that she did not have red hair and showed there were no tattoos on her arms – it was insufficient to convince the Georgia State Trooper, who took Cruz into custody.
After five other jail staff concluded by looking at the picture and description of the absconding Amanda Cruz that the one in front of them was not the absconder, they decided to put her in jail, anyway.
After being released, Cruz sued, and lost.
The Eleventh Circuit observed, “To the extent Cruz argues that her detention cannot be justified objectively because it was a minor offense or because her detention was not authorized under Georgia law, her argument fails … there was probable cause to believe that Cruz committed a crime, namely a violation of the seatbelt law, and that alone is sufficient to justify her detention for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment.”