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REASONABLE SUSPICION STANDARD ON A DUI TRAFFIC STOP

Driving on a residential road, Ms. Binkowski approached a stop sign. She stopped, but her front tires were slightly over the limit line. A patrol officer observed this violation of Vehicle Code section 22450, which requires a driver approaching a stop sign to stop at the limit line. (Bet many of you didn’t even know that.) Ms. Binkowski was not making what’s colloquially called a “California stop” (a rolling stop), she stopped all right, but just barely over the limit line. The patrol officer conducted a traffic stop on Ms. Binkowski for the traffic violation she didn’t even realize she committed. Upon contact with Ms. Binkowski, the officer noticed signs that she might be under the influence of alcohol. Long story short: Ms. Binkowski was arrested for DUI pursuant to this stop.

Now this is a true story and one that ended up before the California Appeals Court. (People v. Binkowski (2007) 157 Cal.App.4th Supp. 1.)  Ms. Binkowski challenged the stop on a motion to suppress the evidence (Penal Code section 1538.5) arguing that the traffic stop violated her Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. She argued that to pull her over for stopping just slightly beyond the limit line was unreasonable. The appellate court disagreed. As the court concluded, the intent of the statute is clear: It requires a driver to stop at or before the limit line, a precisely defined position.

While motions to suppress may be a tool to challenge a DUI arrest, Ms. Binkowski’s argument failed because the officer clearly observed her violating a precisely defined statute. However, the Binkowski case illustrates the limits of a motion to suppress.

Recently the United States Supreme Court issued a decision that further illustrates the limit on Fourth Amendment protections to drivers. In Kansas v. Glover (2020) 140 S. Ct. 1183, the Supreme Court heard a case that originated in the Kansas courts. In that case, a patrol officer ran a registration check on a vehicle, without any stated reason for doing so. The registration check alerted the officer that the driver’s license of the owner of the vehicle had been revoked. Without knowing if the vehicle’s owner was the one driving the car and without observing any other violations, the officer effected a traffic stop on the vehicle.

As it turned out, it was the owner of the vehicle driving. The driver challenged the stop and subsequent arrest on the grounds that the stop violated his Fourth Amendment right since the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to pull him over. The driver argued the officer lacked reasonable suspicion because the officer could not have known when he pulled the vehicle over if the owner of the vehicle was the person driving the vehicle.

Let’s back up: A law enforcement officer must have a particularized and reasonable suspicion that an individual is violating a law before the officer can effect a stop. Without this, the stop can be challenged on a Fourth Amendment violation and if successful on this challenge, the subsequent arrest and prosecution may be dismissed as “fruit of the poisonous tree.” (Wong Sun v. United States (1963) 371 U.S. 471,)

To give an example where this challenge may be successful: Jay is driving the speed limit on Newport Blvd. in the area police jokingly call Deuce Alley because they arrest so many drivers for DUI on that stretch of the boulevard. Jay is not violating any laws but an officer spots his souped up car with (legally) tinted windows and suspects that the driver may have just left one of the bars. He stops Jay’s car and sure enough, Jay appears intoxicated and is arrested for DUI. Jay’s Orange County DUI defense attorney runs a successful motion to suppress the stop because the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop Jay in the first place.

The truth is, it is rare that a motion to suppress is successful in a DUI case. An officer can almost always articulate a reasonable suspicion that passes muster with the court.

Back to the Supreme Court in Kansas v. Glover: The court found that a traffic stop does not demand a high standard of reasonable suspicion. Indeed, the court noted that the reasonable suspicion standard is considerably below 51%.  In the specific instance of the Kansas stop, the Supreme Court held that the officer was justified in his suspicion that the owner of the vehicle was the driver.  “The fact that the registered owner of a vehicle is not always the driver of the vehicle does not negate the reasonableness of [the officer’s] inference.”

Sometimes the circumstances culminating in a DUI arrest indicate that a motion to suppress (or another defense tool) should be considered. Even when these defense tools do not prove successful, they are often a strategy tool that allows a DUI defense attorney to discover evidence that can be used to negotiate a better outcome for the client.

Orange County DUI defense attorney William Weinberg offers a complimentary consultation to review the specifics of your case. He will carefully review the circumstances and evidence in your DUI traffic stop and arrest for potential defense strategies and advise you accordingly. He may be reached at his Irvine office at (949) 474-8008 or by emailing him at bill@williamweinberg.com.

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