I was driving to the office the other day and felt like I was on a slalom course trying to avoid the potholes. I was weaving back and forth inside my lane and crossed the center and fog lines multiple times. Despite the fact that it was 7:00 in the morning, I began to wonder if a police officer observed what appeared to be erratic driving, would he pull me over for suspicion of operating while intoxicated.
A police officer has the right, under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, to initiate a traffic stop if he has reasonable suspicion that a criminal act has occurred or is about to occur. Through my experience, an allegation that the driver was weaving or swerving within his lane or crossed the center and fog lines is a common reason an officer uses to initiate a traffic stop. (Some other reasons are traffic infractions and equipment failures). However, a court will look at surrounding factors to determine whether the weaving was due to the driver being impaired or whether the weaving was due to some other legitimate reason.
Some factors the court will consider are the weather and road conditions. This would include potholes and whether the stretch of road where the weaving was observed was straight or had curves. In addition, the court will look at the time of day, whether there was repeated swerving, whether the swerving occurred over a period of time or distance, and whether the driver overcorrects when returning to the proper lane of travel. If the court determines that these other factors explain the driver’s conduct, then the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle. If the officer did not have a legal justification for initiating the traffic stop, then any evidence obtained from the traffic stop should be excluded from trial. It is important to note that the analysis of whether reasonable suspicion existed is fact sensitive and is analyzed on a case by case basis.
Written by: SCOTT KING GROUP
Russell W. Brown, Jr.
Attorney At Law
Merrillville, IN 46410