Police Stops of Vehicles
Almost everyone has either been stopped by a police officer while driving or seen someone pulled over on the side of the road. You may even have found yourself wondering what the individual did in order to get pulled over. Most people know that you can be pulled over for speeding or failing to use turn signals or stop at a stop sign. However, many do not know that the police can lawfully pull over your vehicle for conduct most view as completely innocent.
As a general rule, police need reasonable and articulable suspicion that unlawful activity has occurred or is about to occur. This means that officers can pull a vehicle when they have directly observed unlawful conduct. It also means that officers can stop a vehicle when, based on their training, experience, and observations, they suspect that criminal activity may be about to occur even though they have not directly observed a violation of the law. Unfortunately, police can stop you for conduct that seems completely innocent to the average person. A recent decision from the Minnesota Court of Appeals highlights just how little an officer needs to justify stopping a vehicle.
Recent Minnesota Court of Appeals Decision
In a recent decision from the Minnesota Court of Appeals decision, a vehicle stop was upheld as lawful when the only observation made by the officer was that the vehicle drove on the fog line and on the center line, without crossing either line. In that case, the defendant was stopped following an officer's observation that the vehicle drove on the fog line and on the center line without ever crossing either line. The defendant was charged with DWI. He filed a motion to suppress arguing that the officer did not have reasonable and articulable suspicion to justify the stop and the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights were violated as a result. The district court denied his motion and he was convicted of DWI. He appealed his conviction and corresponding license revocation arguing that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress.
The Court of Appeals sought to determine whether the defendant had violated the statute requiring a vehicle to travel within its lane. In order to do so the Court of Appeals was tasked with determining the definition of the word "lane". The Court determined that the lines marking the lanes are not themselves part of the lane. In other words, the lane is limited to the area between the lines. As a result, the Court of Appeals upheld the defendant's conviction because by touching the fog line, the driver failed to remain within a single lane.
What does this mean for Minnesota drivers?
The Court of Appeals' decision is an important one for Minnesota drivers. It highlights just how easy it is for an officer to conduct a traffic stop. Most of us probably touch a lane dividing line every time we operate our vehicles. However, many people are unaware that the simple act of touching a lane dividing line is sufficient to support a stop of a vehicle. Minnesota drivers can be stopped for conduct that is not only incredibly common, but is also seen as harmless and innocent by a significant portion of the population. If you have been stopped while driving and have been issued a citation or charged with a crime, contact the attorneys of Olson Defense at (952) 835-1088 for a free consultation to discuss your possible defenses and protect your rights.