Why Did the Police Officer Stop You?

There must be a valid reason to detain a citizen and it must be proved in court if challenged by the defense. All citizens in this country have the right to travel free of unjustified police interference. Random stops of citizens by police are illegal and police stops based upon a hunch are also illegal. A roadblock is a random stop and is not permitted in Washington, although other states do allow the use of roadblocks.

Typical “drunk driving” (weaving all over the road) is not always the reason people who wind up getting arrested for DUI are stopped by police. Many people who are arrested were stopped for speeding, having a tail light out, driving with no lights on at night, or expired registration. In fact, the police are trained to look for certain driving mannerisms that might indicate a chance that the driver is drunk. A list of suspicious driving mannerisms is published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (U.S. DOT-NHTSADOT HS 805711) including the percentage chance (according to the DOT) that a driver at night is legally drunk. Here is the list:

Turning With Wide Radius 65%
Straddling Center or Lane Marker 65%
“Appearing” To Be Drunk (e.g., Slouching in the seat, Gesturing erratically or obscenely, Eye fixation, Tightly gripping the steering wheel Face close to the windshield, Drinking in the vehicle, Driver’s head protruding from vehicle) 60%
Weaving 60%
Driving on Other Than Designated Roadway 55%
Swerving 55%
Slow Speed (More Than 10 MPH Below Speed Limit) 50%
Stopping (Without Cause) in Traffic Lane 50%
Following Too Closely 50%
Drifting 50%
Tires on Center or Lane Marker 45%
Braking Erratically 45%
Driving Into Opposing or Crossing Traffic 45%
Signaling Inconsistent With Driving Actions 40%
Slow Response to Traffic Signals 40%
Stopping Inappropriately (Other Than in Traffic Lane) 35%
Turning Abruptly or Illegally 35%
Accelerating or Decelerating Rapidly 30%
Headlights Off 30%

Not all of these indications constitute violations of the law justifying the stop of a car. If a car is illegally stopped, generally speaking, anything discovered by a police officer after the stop is “tainted” evidence which cannot be used court. Thus, the legality of the initial detention is often a critical and hard fought issue in a drunk driving case. Such litigation has implications beyond the individual case because it protects the constitutional rights of all of us.