Court Discusses When Police Can Legally Stop a Motorist for Swerving in Recent Arizona DUI Case

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.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress, claiming that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to pull him over. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion and he then appealed to a higher court.

The Appellate Decision

On appeal, the court affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress. The court explained that, under A.R.S. section 28-729, a driver must “drive a vehicle as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not move the vehicle from that lane until the driver has first ascertained that the movement can be made with safety.” The question was whether the defendant’s consistent drifting within his lane combined with a sudden and momentary departure from his lane constituted a violation of section 28-729.

The court explained that while “brief, momentary, and minor deviations outside the marked lines” cannot be the basis for a traffic stop, the defendant’s driving warranted the traffic stop. The court noted that the defendant was traveling 10-15 miles per hour under the speed limit, was consistently drifting within his lane of travel, stopped short at two intersection, made a wide turn and then crossed over the fog line into the center median. This, the court held, was not merely a “brief, momentary, and minor” deviation, and thus denied the defendant’s motion to suppress.

Contact a Skilled Arizona DUI Attorney

If you have recently been arrested and charged with an Arizona DUI, you may have several defenses available to you. In some cases, the evidence obtained by the police that would be used to prove intoxication at trail was seized illegally. In such cases, this evidence cannot be admitted at trial and the case could be dismissed. Attorney James E. Novak has extensive experience handling Arizona DUI cases, and is keenly familiar with the constitutional rights afforded to all citizens to be free from illegal searches and seizures. He puts this knowledge to use for his clients through zealous advocacy at every turn. To learn more, call Attorney Novak at 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation.

Additional Resources:

Other Articles of Interest from The Law Office of James Novak’s Phoenix DUI Blog:

Arizona Appellate Court Upholds DUI Conviction Over Defendant’s Operation Challenge, Phoenix DUI Law Blog, July 19, 2018

Nearly 300 DUI Arrests Were Made in Arizona over 4th of July Weekend, Phoenix DUI Law Blog, July 9, 2018

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