Test for line-crossing traffic stops now a little clearer

A few months ago, we made note that the Tennessee Supreme Court would be hearing a couple of cases involving motorists charged with driving under the influence. At issue in these cases is whether a single instance of a vehicle getting near to or crossing either the centerline or the fog line on a road is sufficient grounds for police to pull the driver over.

The argument being made by the defendants is that police violate an individual’s Fourth Amendment protections against undue search and seizure if they base a stop on the witnessing one instance of line crossing. We also suggested that if the high court accepted the state’s position that such stops should be OK, that officers on patrol would be able to stop virtually anyone at any time.

Well, the state Supreme Court recently announced a decision in one case that addresses this issue and the good news is that the justices came down on the side of the defendant. Attorneys seeking to ensure the rights of clients charged with DUI surely have taken note.

According to the record of the opinion, the defendant had been pulled over after an officer witnessed the suspect vehicle swerving within the confines of its lane of traffic. The officer followed the vehicle for more than a mile and testified that he saw it cross over the yellow line just once. But dashboard video of the incident shows that the suspect car didn’t cross the line. The wheels only touched the line.

The defendant was charged under a three-count indictment for DUI, driving with a blood alcohol content over .08 percent and driving with a BAC level over .20 percent. At trial, he pleaded guilty to DUI first offense, but he also sought to have the video evidence suppressed as unconstitutional and reserved the right to appeal the denial of his motion.

It was an appeal of that denial the Supreme Court heard, and it ruled that the evidence should have been suppressed and ordered the charges against the defendant dismissed with prejudice.

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