Idaho’s Supremes have decided, in a 3 – 2 decision, that the line on the side of the road is actually part of the lane, so an officer unreasonably stopped a driver because he had driven onto that line twice. That decision results in suppression of the evidence needed by the State for its DUI case.
The case goes back to an arrest of a driver in 2012, who had, according to the officer, twice driven onto, but not over the “fog line.” He was stopped, given field sobriety tests, and then a breathalyzer. He was charged with driving under the influence. In court, the magistrate judge suppressed the evidence needed by the prosecutor for the DUI, concluding there was no traffic violation justifying a stop. If the stop is bad, the evidence resulting from that stop gets suppressed and can’t be used at trial. A district court judge sitting as an appellate court reversed the decision of the magistrate, and found that when the driver drove onto the line (it was actually the line marking the bicycle lane), he committed a driving infraction, thereby justifying the officer’s stop. A stop has to be based on facts supporting a reasonable conclusion that the law is being violated. A stop based on less is unreasonable, and a violation of the constitution. The Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s decision, and the driver appealed his case to the Idaho Supreme Court, which reversed the decision because it found the traffic stop was unreasonable.
A traffic stop is a “seizure” under the constitution, so it must be reasonable if evidence from the stop is going to be admissible at trial. An investigatory stop is permitted when an officer has facts giving rise to a reasonable suspicion a crime has occurred or is about to occur. Here, the state argued that the officer made a valid traffic stop because the driver had driven onto the line and therefore out of his lane. A second justification for the stop was that the officer reasonably concluded he was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol based on his “driving pattern.” But the officer testified that other than driving onto that line, there was nothing about the driving pattern that led to a conclusion the driver was under the influence. A review of Idaho’s driving rules and statutes ended the discussion for the Court – the line is part of the lane and therefore part of the road, so driving onto it is not proof that you have either violated the law or are under the influence. Evidence suppressed. No DUI. Game over. Check out the case here.
So what should we take away from this case?
First, don’t be afraid to take your case to court. The truth is our system relies on people settling their cases to keep the cases moving smoothly. The driver here did not settle – he fought the man and the man lost! It happens!
Second, understand your rights as a driver. An officer must have articulable facts indicating you have or are about to violate the law to stop you. If you are stopped, don’t argue that point with the officer. He or she is just doing his or her job – and that job is tough enough. Give the officer a break and hire a lawyer to fix it in court.
Third, take some time to understand your duties as a driver. Idaho law sets out some pretty specific requirements – like drive in the right hand lane – and we all need to follow those requirements to make driving safe.
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