It would seem logical that some of the most important information to be weighed in a Birmingham DUI case would be elements like breathalyzer and blood test results, officer observations of traffic violations and the outcome of field sobriety tests.
While it’s true that those things certainly can matter, they aren’t necessarily the most important. What a lot of people don’t realize is that those pieces of evidence could quickly become irrelevant if your defense lawyer can prove that the stop was unlawful.
This might seem like a long-shot, but it’s more common than you might think.
A recent case out of Ohio, State v. Shaffer, 2013-Ohio-3581, illustrates this exact point. Here, a conviction was reversed and the case remanded back to the lower court, where it is likely to be dismissed for lack of evidence. The reason has to do with the fact that the arresting officer failed to prove that he had reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop in the first place. As a result, any evidence he found subsequent to that point had to be dismissed. That effectively quashes the case.
According to court records, here’s what happened:
A female driver was traveling on a highway one Saturday around 3 a.m. when a trooper pulled up behind her. As he followed her, he noted at one point that her right side tires drifted onto the white marker line one time for about three seconds. It was solely on this basis that the trooper initiated a traffic stop for failure to drive within the marked lanes. This is also sometimes referred to as a marked lanes violation.
When he approached the vehicle and began speaking with the driver, he noted that she had a strong odor of alcoholic beverage emitting from her breath. Her eyes were reportedly glassy and red. Her speech was slurred. At first, she denied she had consumed any alcohol that day, but then later conceded she drunk alcohol about 12 hours earlier.
The driver consented to one sobriety test, which she failed. She declined to submit to any further tests, including a breathalyzer.
She was subsequently arrested for suspicion of operating a vehicle under the influence. She was also cited for the marked lane violation.
Later in court, her lawyer moved to suppress all evidence against her on the grounds that the trooper lacked probable cause to arrest her because there had been no reasonable/articulable suspicion to justify the stop in the first place. The trial court declined, and the defendant subsequently pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless operation.
However, she appealed on the argument that the initial stop was not conducted on the basis of reasonable suspicion.
The appellate court justices unanimously sided with the defendant, reasoning that the trooper’s assertion that the defendant had crossed the white line just once for three seconds was not enough on its own to justify a stop for a marked lane violation. Absent any other evidence, the justices decided, this could be considered well within the realm of normal driving activity.
This case illustrates why you never want to be pressured into simply pleading guilty to a DUI without first having your case thoroughly reviewed by a skilled defense lawyer. No matter what the evidence against you, it’s possible a strong argument could be made for why it shouldn’t be considered.
Marked Lanes Violation Overturned for Lack of ‘Reasonable’ Suspicion, Aug. 20, 2013, By Bret Crow, Court News Ohio
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