A lot of people wonder when, exactly, the police have the right to pull someone over. The unfortunate reality is that there isn’t much you can do if you’re pulled over. However, if the officer didn’t have sufficient legal justification for pulling you over, they may have violated your constitutional rights. And, if they did, they won’t be allowed to use any of the evidence they discovered as a result of that violation.
In order to pull someone over, the officer must have what’s called “reasonable suspicion” that a crime has been committed or is in progress. Reasonable suspicion requires an actual indication that something is wrong; not just an officer’s hunch.
So, would an officer have the right to pull you over on suspicion of DUI simply because you were observed driving away from a bar parking lot? That’s not enough for reasonable suspicion, according to a recent decision by the Arizona Court of Appeals.
Court: Officer had no right to stop strip mall patron
A member of the East Valley DUI task force was specifically looking for people to arrest for DUI on Dec. 7, 2017. Therefore, he waited near an intersection near O’Kelley’s Sports Bar and Grill, which was located adjacent to a strip mall.
The defendant in this case, James F., was observed exiting the lot of the strip mall, not the bar, although they were connected. The officer followed him.
Over the two miles the officer followed James, his speed varied but he never exceeded the speed limit. The officer reported no signs of driver impairment and James committed no traffic violations. Nevertheless, the officer pulled James over and charged him with DUI.
The defendant’s suspicious behavior? Driving under the speed limit
“He stayed under the speed limit — well under 10 miles an hour under the speed limit — which is one of the NHTSA clues,” testified the officer, referring to indicators of intoxication promulgated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
That said, James may have been keeping it under the speed limit because there was a police officer following him.
Appeals Court tosses the evidence
There was some disagreement between the municipal court and a Maricopa County Superior Court on whether the traffic stop was justified. Ultimately, the Arizona Court of Appeals found that the officer had pointed to no facts showing that James was drunk, so he had failed to demonstrate reasonable suspicion. Any evidence gathered at the traffic stop would be inadmissible.
As the municipal judge had specifically found, the officer had no objective reason to believe James was drunk, or that he had not been conducting legitimate business at the strip mall. Moreover, the officer was unable to remember exactly how James’s speed had varied and failed to articulate why varying speed is a sign of impairment rather than natural caution around a police officer.
If you are ever pulled over for DUI, be sure to tell your story to an experienced criminal defense attorney. A good defense lawyer may be able to show that you were stopped without reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed or is in progress. This could result in the evidence against you being found inadmissible.
If that does not happen, a good defense lawyer can work to have the charges reduced or dismissed, argue for a reduced sentence, or fight for an acquittal at trial.