On Friday February 26, 30-year-old Leshawn Stanbridge’s federal drug conviction was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals. Stanbridge, a Quincy resident, pleaded guilty to drug charges and was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison in July of last year. Now, after serving 23 months behind bars, he has been released.
Two Quincy police officers were on patrol in April of 2014 when they claim they saw Stanbridge carrying a duffel bag as he walked to his vehicle, allegedly hesitating when he saw the two officers and acting suspicious. The two officers, Steve Bangert and Paul Hodges, then began to “shadow” Stanbridge according to news reports.
As the officers followed, Stanbridge put on his right turn signal and pulled to the side of the road. The officers pulled in behind the suspect, as Hodges said that Stanbridge had made a left-hand turn at an intersection without signaling. In Illinois, motorists are required to activate a turn signal for 100 feet prior to making a turn. While Hodges said Stanbridge did not signal, Bangert claimed he did not witness the traffic violation.
While a dashboard camera video did show Stanbridge failed to activate his signal for 100 feet before pulling off to the right when officers pulled in behind him, the video did not reveal an illegal left-hand turn as Hodges claimed. There is no law in Illinois regarding how far ahead a motorist must signal before pulling over at a curb. Although drugs were seized in the course of the stop, the panel of judges with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that because the officers lacked probable cause to pull Stanbridge over, the drugs were not admissible in court.
Police must have probable cause to pull someone over. In this case, there was no proof that the defendant did not activate his left turn signal at the required distance when making the turn. Evidence found during what is essentially an illegal stop could not be used in court.
This is a prime example of why someone convicted of a crime may want to appeal the verdict. While Stanbridge may have spent 12 years in prison had he not appealed, he is now a free man because of errors made by police.
Anyone in Michigan convicted of a drug crime or any criminal offense and who feels they were wrongly convicted or that mistakes were made should consult with a highly experienced Michigan criminal appeals attorney immediately. The appeals process is complex, and while it is difficult to compel appeals court judges that a lower court’s decision should be reversed, the challenge can often be overcome with a capable lawyer.