Did Officer have Reasonable Suspicion to Stop the Driver for DWI?
DID THE ARRESTING OFFICER HAVE REASONABLE SUSPICION TO STOP THE DRIVER FOR DRIVING WHILE IMPAIRED (DWI & DUI)?
For the court to find you guilty of Driving While Impaired (DWI / DUI) in Raleigh, the state must prove that the officer had (1) Reasonable Suspicion to stop your vehicle, (2) Probable Cause to arrest you, and (3) proof Beyond A Reasonable Doubt that you are guilty of each element of Driving While Impaired.
1st – Did the Officer Have Reasonable Suspicion to Justify Stopping Your Vehicle?
To establish Reasonable Suspicion to stop a vehicle, the officer must prove that the Totality of the Circumstances (everything the officer perceived about the situation) would allow a Reasonable Person to suspect that a driver has committed a Traffic Law Violation or is driving so unusually as to suggest a Medical Emergency. The level of suspicion required is a “fair probability.”
A Traffic Law Violation includes speeding, running a stop sign, failure to use a turn signal, an expired registration sticker, etc. Unusual driving that would suggest a Medical Emergency includes driving much slower than the speed limit, unexplained speeding up and slowing down, and unexplained stopping in the roadway or at a green light. This type of unusual driving is often associated with a driver having a stroke, heart attack, epileptic fit, diabetic imbalance or impaired driving.
The officer must testify about the specific and articulable facts he perceived about the driving that would allow an objectively Reasonable Police Officer to suspect a Traffic Law Violation or a Medical Emergency. An individual officer’s hunch or “unparticularized suspicion” does not justify stopping a driver.
If a vehicle is only weaving within its lane, an officer cannot legally stop the vehicle because weaving within the lane is not a Traffic Law Violation and it is not unusual enough to suggest a Medical Emergency. However, weaving within the lane combined with other factors may justify stopping a vehicle.
If a vehicle stops at a red light and remains stopped for several seconds after the light turns green, an officer cannot legally stop the vehicle because this delay is not a Traffic Law Violation and is not unusual enough to suggest a Medical Emergency. However, remaining stopped at a green light for an extended time without driving forward is unusual enough to cause a Reasonable Person to Reasonably Suspect that the driver may be suffering from a Medical Emergency or Impairment.
If an officer sees a vehicle stopped along the roadside, he may stop to look for injured passengers and offer assistance to stranded motorists. If the officer finds an impaired driver behind the wheel with the engine running, the officer may arrest the driver for Driving While Impaired. The stopped vehicle allowed the officer to Reasonably Suspect that the stopped vehicle may contain people who need assistance. Since the officer had a legal justification to investigate the stopped vehicle, he legally discovered the evidence of impaired driving and can charge the driver with impaired driving.
Challenging the Officer’s Alleged Reasonable Suspicion for Stopping a Vehicle
In Wake County Court a defendant charged with Driving While Impaired must file a written motion asking the court to evaluate whether the officer had Reasonable Suspicion to justify stopping the vehicle. If you do not file this written motion, then the court will not court will not consider this objection. At McCoppin & Associates, we file a written motion objecting to the officer’s alleged Reasonable Suspicion to stop the vehicle in every DWI case.
If the court finds that an officer did not have Reasonable Suspicion to stop a vehicle, then the defendant’s attorney must object to the admission of all evidence gathered as a result of this unconstitutional vehicle stop. After the court grants this motion to suppress the illegally gathered evidence, the trial can resume. In almost all DWI cases, the prosecutor will dismiss the case at this point because there is no admissible evidence of guilt.
If the judge finds Reasonable Suspicion to stop the vehicle, we next challenge the officer’s alleged Probable Cause to arrest the driver.