By: Jerry R. Barksdale
It was the mid-1970s when an RV with Kentucky plates and escorted by two motorcycles headed south on I-65 and crossed into Alabama. Limestone County Deputy Hargis (not real name) sat in his patrol car watching for speeders when the RV caught his attention. Why was it being escorted by motorcycles? He decided to check it out. He followed for a few miles before turning on his red light. The RV pulled over on the shoulder, and a middle-aged man wearing shorts and beach shirt stepped out.
“What’s the problem officer?”
“What’che haul’n?” asked Hargis.
“I’m gonna take a look-see,” said Hargis.
“Not if you don’t have a search warrant,” said the man. “I know the law, and you don’t have probable cause to board my vehicle and search.”
“I don’t need a search warrant – and don’t get smart,” warned Hargis. An argument ensued. Hargis boarded the RV and walked to the back, the man protesting all the way.
“Well, well, lookey here,” said Hargis. Stacked in back of the RV were several cases of Kentucky beer. Alabama taxes hadn’t been paid, and that was a crime. Hargis explained that Limestone County was “dry,” and it was illegal to possess alcohol. And more seriously, Hargis was charging the man with transporting alcohol, which if convicted, could result in one to six years imprisonment, not to mention his RV would be confiscated and sold.
“You got to be kidding me!”
“Don’t get smart with me,” warned Hargis for a second time.
Deputy Hargis wrote out the tickets charging the man with speeding, transporting, violation of the prohibition law, and possession of alcohol on which Alabama tax hadn’t been paid.
Later that day, when Hargis filed the paperwork with the court clerk, he placed a small star in the upper right corner of each ticket. The cases went to Judge David L. Rosenau for eventual trial.
I was in my office when my secretary buzzed. “Mister Wayman Sherrer is on the line.” Why would the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama be calling me? I wondered. Perhaps it was a social call. I had known Wayman, Marine, FBI agent, and lawyer from Oneonta, Alabama for at least 10 years. When Nixon was elected President in 1968, Wayman was appointed U.S. Attorney. Over the phone, we exchanged pleasantries, then Wayman said, “One of my fellow U.S. Attorneys in Kentucky has been arrested in Limestone County and charged with a host of crimes. He needs a lawyer. He’ll probably run for Governor of Kentucky and the Alabama charges will ruin him.”
“What are the facts?” I asked.
“Well, he and his staff were going to Gulf Shores on a working vacation. They were preparing to prosecute a big criminal case in Kentucky and wanted to get away, enjoy some sunshine, and prepare the case, all at the same time. They were carrying beer, and he is charged with transporting. They are threatening to take his RV. I’d consider it a personal favor if you would help him out of this mess.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” I said.
I visited Judge Rosenau and related the facts. “Judge, they were going to the beach for a little relaxation and at the same time prepare for a big criminal case they’re about to try,” I said.
“Your client got smart with the deputy,” said Judge. “There was a star on the complaint. That means he caused trouble. I don’t like that.”
Judge Rosenau didn’t cut any slack with anyone just because they were high and mighty. I have heard the story about the governor’s cabinet member busted for speeding in Limestone County. The governor’s assistant called Judge and said the governor would appreciate it if he would dismiss the case. “You tell the governor to run Alabama and I’ll run my court in Limestone County. Have a nice day.”
I knew I faced an uphill battle.
Judge finally said, “Well, it’s the sheriff’s case, talk to him.”
I visited Sheriff Buddy Evans and explained what had happened. “He’s law enforcement just like you,” I said. “Anyway, he’s planning to run for governor in Kentucky and this case will kill his chance to win.”
Buddy wasn’t impressed.
“And there’s another reason,” I said. “The deputy didn’t have probable cause to stop the RV and search it without a warrant. All evidence of the illegal search will be excluded from evidence.”
Buddy saw the problem.
“The only case left to prosecute is speeding.” I said.
I never sent the would-be governor a bill for my services and don’t know if he ever ran for governor; he never called and thanked me for snatching him from the clutches of justice.
“Getting smart” is not a crime, but we older Southerners know that getting smart with your mama will get your jaws slapped. My advice is don’t be a smarty pants with your mama or with a policeman – no matter who you are.
By: Jerry Barksdale