Appeals Court Tosses DWI Evidence Due to Improper Traffic Stop

DWI cases usually begin with a traffic stop. In order for the stop to be legal, however, the arresting officer must have a “reasonable suspicion” that you have committed a crime. Note that does not necessarily mean the officer suspects you of drunk driving. If the officer has reason to believe that you have violated any traffic law, the stop is lawful, and any subsequent evidence of drunk driving gathered by the officer may be used against you in court.

Defendant Didn’t Commit Violation by Yielding to Police Car at Intersection

Conversely, if the stop was not lawful–i.e., the officer did not have reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation–then any evidence obtained during the stop is inadmissible and must be suppressed. A recent decision from the Texas Third District Court of Appeals, State v. Colby, offers a helpful illustration. In this case, prosecutors unsuccessfully appealed a trial judge’s decision granting a DWI defendant’s motion to suppress.

Here is what happened. One day, a police officer was on routine patrol. He approached the intersection of a four-lane road and a two-lane road. The officer was traveling on the two-way road, which was controlled by a stop sign. The officer admitted, however, that he did not come to a complete stop and that his vehicle was out into the intersection itself.

Meanwhile, the defendant approached the intersection traveling on the four-lane road. Although the defendant had the right-of-way, he came to a complete stop when he saw the officer’s car in the intersection. As the officer described it, the defendant “stopped, reversed, reversed back, and then began flashing his high beams at me.” The officer decided to initiate a traffic stop, which ultimately led to the defendant’s arrest on DWI charges.

In his motion to suppress, the defendant argued he did not commit any traffic violation justifying the stop. The prosecution maintained the defendant violated Section 545.302 of the Texas Transportation Code, which prohibits a driver from stopping their vehicle “in an intersection.”

But as the trial judge noted, the defendant only stopped his vehicle because he saw that the officer’s “marked patrol vehicle” was itself “stopped in the intersection.” The defendant simply backed away to avoid a collision with the officer. Based on this conduct, the officer had no reasonable basis to initiate a traffic stop of the defendant.

The appeals court agreed. The defendant’s “attempt to yield” to the officer’s vehicle was permitted under Section 545.302, which makes an exception for stopping in an intersection to avoid a “conflict with other traffic.” The officer should have known this, the appeals court said, and since there was no other basis for the traffic stop, any subsequent evidence of the defendant’s drunk driving was inadmissible.

Accused of Drunk Driving in Galveston?

Speak with a Galveston DWI Defense Lawyer Today

Many DWI defendants mistakenly assume that just because a police officer pulls them over, they must have some lawful basis for doing so. But in cases like the one described above, the officer either does not know the law or applies it incorrectly. This is where having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side can prove invaluable.

If you have been charged with DWI and need immediate assistance, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City today.