Articles Posted in Reasonable Suspicion

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona DUI case discussing whether the arresting police officer was justified in removing the defendant from the vehicle to perform several field sobriety tests. Ultimately, the court rejected the defendant’s challenges to the traffic stop and affirmed his conviction.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, at around 2 a.m., an officer was on patrol in an area that was known as a road used by drunk drivers. The officer noticed the defendant pass by, traveling about 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. The officer noted no other traffic infraction.

When the officer approached the vehicle, he noticed the defendant’s eyes were watery and bloodshot, and the car smelled of alcohol. The defendant admitted to having something to drink, but explained that he was not feeling the effects of the alcohol. The defendant understood all the officer’s questions and responded in a clear manner. However, the officer then performed a horizontal nystagmus test to determine if the defendant was intoxicated or tired.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona DUI case involving a defendant’s claim that the trooper who pulled him over lacked reasonable suspicion to do so. The defendant’s argument was based on the fact that, at the time of his arrest, the trooper was under investigation for providing false and misleading information on official paperwork. Ultimately, however, the appellate court concluded that the lower court’s decision to deny the motion should be upheld.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a trooper pulled over the defendant for following another vehicle too closely. Upon observing the defendant, the trooper believed the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and requested he consent to a blood draw. The defendant denied the request, and the trooper then obtained a warrant to draw the defendant’s blood. Ultimately, the defendant was arrested for DUI.

In a pre-trial motion to suppress, the defendant presented evidence showing that the trooper who arrested him resigned during an investigation into alleged misconduct during the trooper’s DUI arrests. Evidently, the trooper faced allegations that he “arrested suspects without probable cause and filed reports containing false information.” The defendant also presented evidence that the trooper included the wrong date and time on the paperwork he generated related to the defendant’s arrest. The defendant argued that these facts, viewed together, cast doubt on the reliability of what the trooper claimed he observed.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion affirming a trial court’s decision to grant a defendant’s motion to suppress in an Arizona DUI case. The case required the court to review the state’s claim that reasonable suspicion supported the traffic stop. After viewing dashcam footage from the officer’s vehicle, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion. The appellate court affirmed.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the defendant was driving shortly after 2 a.m. when he was pulled over by a police officer, who claimed that the defendant did not come to a complete stop at a stop sign. During the stop, the officer observed evidence suggesting the defendant was intoxicated, and the defendant was ultimately arrested and charged with DUI.

In a pre-trial motion to suppress, the defendant showed the dashcam footage from the officer’s vehicle, arguing that he came to a complete stop and that there was no basis for the traffic stop. The prosecution argued that the dashcam footage was not a good representation of the officer’s perspective, and that, according to the officer, the defendant admitted he should have come to a complete stop sooner than he did. The defendant did not acknowledge making that statement, and it could not be heard on the video. The prosecution told the judge that the officer was available to testify, but he was not called by the prosecution.

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In March of this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona DUI case involving the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence that was recovered during the traffic stop that led to his arrest. Specifically, the defendant claimed that the police illegally seized him after they found out that he did not have any warrants for his arrest. However, the court rejected the defendant’s argument, allowing the admission of the evidence.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a police officer observed the defendant driving a vehicle ten miles per hour under the speed limit on a rural road in Pima County. The officer also noticed the defendant swerve out of his lane once, and then pull off to the side of the road. The officer pulled behind the defendant and approached the vehicle to conduct a welfare check.

The officer noticed an open case of beer in the defendant’s car. When the officer asked how the defendant was feeling, the defendant responded that he was okay, and that he pulled over because he needed to urinate. At this point, the officer noticed a smell of alcohol emanating from the defendant. The defendant provided his identification, and the officer requested over the radio for a fellow officer to run a check for warrants.

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One of the most important roles of a judge or jury overseeing an Arizona DUI case is to weigh a witnesses’ credibility. Not every witness is completely accurate in their recollection of the events they testify about. It may be that a witnesses’ memory is imperfect, or that they are biased in some way. Bias does not always need to be intentional. In fact, it is common for witnesses to have an unconscious bias one way or another based on their beliefs or associations.

In a pre-trial motion, the judge will always be the one making the credibility assessment, as these motions are litigated in front of the judge. However, credibility issues can also arise at trial. In a recent appellate decision, the court affirmed the denial of a defendant’s motion to suppress after the trial court found the arresting police officer was credible despite seeming inconsistencies in his story.

According to the court’s opinion, an officer noticed that the defendant was driving with a license plate light that was not working. The officer pulled the defendant’s vehicle over and smelled alcohol coming from the defendant. The officer also noted that the defendant’s eyes were watery and bloodshot, and that his speech was slurred. The defendant was arrested for DUI, and then consented to a blood draw, which revealed his blood-alcohol content to be over the legal limit.

In any Arizona DUI case, the defendant can file a motion to suppress certain evidence. When a motion to suppress is filed, it is the prosecution’s burden to prove that the evidence it is intending on using at trial was lawfully obtained. Often, Arizona motions to suppress focus on statements that were made prior to an arrest, a police officer’s observations of a motorist, or physical evidence that was obtained as a result of a traffic stop. An Arizona motion to suppress can also keep chemical test results or formal, recorded statements out of evidence.

An Arizona drunk driving charge must be established by the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt. To meet this burden, the prosecution must present evidence proving each element of every crime that is charged against a defendant. In the case of an Arizona DUI case, this typically requires the prosecution prove:

  1. The defendant was driving a motor vehicle;

Law enforcement officers frequently focus their DUI enforcement efforts on long weekends and holidays under the assumption that people are more likely to drink and drive when they are out celebrating with friends and family. According to a recent news report, there were a total of 503 Arizona DUI arrests over Memorial Day weekend. Of those, 70 people were arrested for aggravated DUI and the remaining 433 were misdemeanor DUI arrests.

The article lists a few other interesting facts:

  • 109 motorists were arrested for extreme DUI, with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) in excess of .15

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona DUI case discussing whether a police officer had reasonable suspicion to pull over the vehicle the defendant was driving based on the fact that the officer knew the owner of that vehicle had a suspended driver’s license. Ultimately, the court concluded that a police officer has reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop if they are aware the owner of the vehicle has a suspended license.

Reasonable Suspicion Required to Stop a Car

For a police officer to initiate a stop, the officer must have an objective belief that the person is involved in some illegal activity. When it comes to pulling over a motor vehicle, Arizona courts have held that an officer must have a reasonable suspicion that the operator is engaged in illegal activity.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a police officer observed the defendant make a “fairly fast turn,” and ran the vehicle’s tag. Upon doing so, the officer learned that the owner of the vehicle had a driver’s license that had been revoked. Using his on-board computer, the officer viewed two pictures of the vehicle’s owner.

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While getting pulled over may seem random – and indeed, sometimes it is – police officers are not permitted to pull motorists over for no reason. In fact, when a traffic stop is challenged, police officers must be able to articulate the reasons they relied upon for stopping a motorist. If a police officer does not have an adequate reason to stop a motorist, or impermissibly extends the length of a traffic stop in order to conduct an investigation unrelated to the reason for the stop, any evidence seized as a result of the stop must be suppressed.

Many police “fishing expeditions” begin with an officer stopping a motorist they believe is engaged in illegal activity for unjustifiable reasons. For example, a stop may be based on the way the person looks, or an aggressive – but not necessarily illegal – traffic maneuver. The same is true for a police officer’s reasons to search a car.

Of course, police are permitted to pull a motorist over for a traffic violation and may search a car when there is evidence of criminal activity readily observable inside the car. One of the most common reasons police officers use to justify both traffic stops and searches of a cars is a belief that the driver was intoxicated. However, evidence of intoxication is notoriously suspect because it is subjective and there is often a major lack of documentation.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona DUI case, discussing when a police officer has cause to pull a motorist over for swerving. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant’s driving did warrant the officer’s traffic stop, and thus affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress.

The Facts of the Case

A police officer first noticed the defendant’s vehicle because it was traveling 10-15 miles per hour below the posted speed limit. The officer began to follow the defendant, and observed the defendant’s vehicle cross the fog line and travel back and forth from one side of the lane to the other. The officer also witnessed the defendant stop short at two intersections. At all times, the defendant’s vehicle stayed within the lane of travel and maintained a speed between 10-15 miles per hour below the speed limit.

A few moments later, the defendant made a wide left-turn, again staying within his lane. However, after the turn, the officer testified that the defendant started to make “drastic moves . . . like an S,” crossing the fog line and driving into the painted median. The officer pulled the defendant over and eventually arrested him for DUI.

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