Pot profiling: Probable cause to stop Colorado driver in New Mexico is (literally) out of sight

As we noted in an article yesterday asking whether Alabama cops think all Colorado drivers look like drug smugglers, we've been hearing from lots of folks on the subject of pot profiling.

Of course, officers are supposed to have probable cause to justify a traffic stop and a search for marijuana -- but there doesn't always seem to be a reason beyond the sight of a Colorado license plate. Here's an example of probable cause that was literally out of sight.

The teller of this tale is Desiré Anastasia, who notes via e-mail that last year, she loaded up her mother and her dogs in a rented Enterprise van with Colorado plates and began the trek from Denver to Lake Havasu for their annual camping trip.

"As we were driving through New Mexico, and I was driving, an officer flipped lights and sirens on," Anastasia recalls.

Why was the van targeted? At first, Anastasia had no idea. She looked over her shoulder at her mom, who was laying flat on the back seat and said, "Wake up. I'm being stopped and I wasn't speeding or talking/texting on my phone, and I'm wearing my seat belt, I promise."

As a humorous aside, Anastasia points out that "I am 35 and my mom is 58."

Her mom is also an ex-officer, and after the cop approached the van and began giving it a careful look, she asked why he'd pulled them over.

The reason he gave? In Anastasia's words, "My mom wasn't in a seat belt."

Maybe not, but there's no way the New Mexico law enforcer could have known that until he looked in the window, since she'd been laying down at the time -- plus, the van had tinted windows.

At this point, the cop may have realized he was on shaky ground, probable cause-wise. "When she pulled out a seat belt from under her, he handed my information back to me and went back to his car with barely a word," Anastasia maintains.

Last week, Anastasia and her mother made the trip again, this time in a Yukon rented from Hertz. "How we didn't get stopped going through UT, AZ, or NM is way beyond me," she admits.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Pot profiling: Do Alabama cops think everyone from Colorado looks like a drug smuggler?"

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts