When May the Police Lawfully Stop My Vehicle?

If you have been arrested on charges of DUI following a traffic stop, there are several questions you must ask. One of the most important questions is “was the initial traffic stop valid?” If the initial traffic stop was not valid, your case could end up getting dismissed – meaning no probation, no fines, and most importantly – no jail time.

In order to lawfully stop a vehicle, a law enforcement officer must either have probable cause for a civil infraction or reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. An officer may also stop a vehicle if he has reasonable suspicion of impairment. A stop may be deemed unlawful and lacking the necessary reasonable suspicion if the alleged violator affects no other traffic. “Reasonable Suspicion” is more than a bare suspicion or a subjective hunch; furthermore reasonable suspicion does not exist when the acts giving rise to the suspicion are susceptible to an interpretation that more reasonably indicates non-criminal activity.

When analyzing the constitutionality of a stop, the court must follow an objective standard test to determine whether a reasonable officer would have conducted a stop. Here the Court must ask “did the officer who initiated the traffic stop have an objectionable reasonable basis for conducting the stop?” The leading case describing a lack of objective evidence on which to stop the defendant’s vehicle after officers observed the defendant drive his car over the right line on at least three occasions is Crooks v. State. In Crooks, the Court found that, even though the Defendant’s right tires crossed the right lane three times, there was no evidence suggesting that the Defendant failed to ascertain that his movements could be made with safety since no cars or pedestrians were present when the movements were made. Here the Court held that if there is no evidence that any other traffic was affected, there is no probable cause or reasonable suspicion for the stop.

Florida Statutes, Section 316.089 requires a vehicle to be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety. However, in the absence of any other traffic, there is no requirement that a vehicle be driven within a single lane as there would be no safety hazard. In Jordan v. State the Court noted that the failure to maintain a single lane statute recognizes “that it is not practicable, perhaps not even possible, for a motorist to maintain a single lane at all times and the crucial concern is safety rather than precision.” Ultimately, failure to maintain a single lane alone cannot establish probable cause to stop a vehicle when it is done safely.

Florida case law contains many similar cases where courts have held minor weaving over a short distance does not necessitate a traffic stop. In Sunby v. State, the Fifth DCA vacated a circuit courts order overturning a county court motion to suppress regarding a stop for “weaving” and erratic driving. At the motion to suppress hearing in Sunby, the officer testified that the defendant drove more erratically than was indicated on a video that was introduced into evidence at the hearing. The court held that although the driving of the defendant was not perfect , it was not “substantially erratic” to give rise to reasonable suspicion of impairment under the objective test. A similar decision was reached in Weiss v. State where the Fourth DCA upheld the suppression of a stop for “weaving from one lane to another” when there was no one else on the road.

These are just some examples of cases where a seemingly valid traffic stop was considered invalid in the eyes of the law. Many times police will stop a vehicle after just seconds of observation. Many times when this happens, the rights of the accused have been violated.

If you or a loved one has been arrested for DUI contact an attorney at Taracks & Associates today. As former state prosecutors we have the necessary tools to fight the State’s case against you. In many cases we find that the initial traffic stop was illegal and the resulting DUI arrest must be suppressed. A knowledgeable and experienced attorney will be able to show you the holes in the State’s case and how those issues can be used in your defense. Act now – a consultation with one of our Tampa DUI lawyers is always free. Taracks & Associates – The Advocate For You.

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