An officers’s observation of a traffic violation will always justify a temporary investigative detention. Some of the more common examples include speeding, running a stop sign or traffic signal, failing to signal a lane change, or failing to dim lights. A stop may be based on violations of vehicle registration laws or having an expired inspections sticker. An equipment failure, such as a broken tail light or driving on a tireless metal wheel, can likewise be a violation of the law that supports a traffic stop.
Weaving Within the Lane
Many DWI cases begin with an officer seeing the driver weaving on the road. Weaving as justification for a stop has generated a tremendous amount of litigation; While no clear cut rule has emerged yet, a few guidelines can be outlined from the cases:
- Weaving within a single lane is not as good a reason for a traffic stop as weaving into another lane. The offense of failure to maintain a single lane in Transportation Code 545.060 has two elements:
- Failing to drive within a single lane;
- When it is unsafe to do so.
- Little or not other traffic on the road makes it less likely that the officer can justify a stop based on unsafe driving. If the driver’s failure to drive within a single marked lane is the sole basis for the traffic stop, the evidence must show that the driving was unsafe, considering all of the circumstances, in order to justify a detention.
- Fluctuating speed plus weaving can equal reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop.
- Speeding while weaving will produce a traffic offense for which the officer can pull the driver over.
- Other vehicles took evasive action to avoid the vehicle
- Some indication that the weaving was port of more erratic driving behavior or was unsafe to do so;
- A description that the vehicle just pulled out of a bar around closing time.
An emerging justification for stops, particularly in the DWI context, is community care taking. Beyond seeking out criminal, officers have an obligation to come to the aid of citizens who appear to be in distress. In determination of when community care taking provides a basis for the stop, courts look at:
- The nature and level of distress exhibited by the individual
- the location of the individual
- Whether the individual was alone and or had access to assistance independent of that offered by the officer; and
- To what extend the individual, if not assisted, presented a danger to himself or others.
After a citizen call, the patrol officer typically will be dispatched to the location. Often, he will see not only a vehicle matching the description, but also the citizen’s car behind the suspect. If the officer observes further suspicious driving independent of that reported to him by the dispatcher, the legal basis for the stop will be clear and difficult to challenge. The legality of the stop is not as clear in those cases where the officer stops the vehicle with not independent basis beyond the bad driving reported by the citizen. A reporting citizen is presumed to be credible. The identified citizen has more credibility than the unidentified informant. The test is whether the reporting citizen placed himself in a position where he could be held accountable for his intervention? It does not matter that the officer did not actually know the identity of the citizen as long as the manner in which the citizen gave the information exposed her identity to discovery.
Warrants as a Basis
Officers regular run license plates of vehicles they observe in an effort to detect stolen vehicles or individuals who may have outstanding warrants. Receiving confirmation of a warrant over a police broadcast will provide sufficient reasonable basis for any investigative stop. The key will be what the broadcasting party relied upon. An officer may arrive at the scene of an accident and sic over that the driver has outstanding warrants. The warrant justifies an arrest, but during the course of the arrest, the officer may have the opportunity to observe behavior that also supports investigating the potential DWI.
Collin County criminal lawyer Constantine Anagnostis dedicates his practice to people who are facing criminal charges, with a primary emphasis on DWI, Drug Offenses, Expunction & Nondisclosure Agreements, and Occupational Driver’s License Issues. Collin County criminal lawyer Constantine G. Anagnostis understands the law, procedures, and penalties pertaining to criminal law, and will aggressively fight to protect your rights. Collin County criminal lawyer Constantine Anagnostis provides the utmost personal dedication to each and every case, and truly cares about his clients. You may call 817-229-0319 to schedule a free consultation, or submit a sample case form. At the Law Office of Constantine G. Anagnostis, we look forward to helping you.