Court Holds Reasonable Suspicion Exists to Pull Over Vehicle if Owner’s License Is Suspended

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 Upon doing so, the officer learned that the owner of the vehicle had a driver’s license that had been revoked.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.

Evidently, the officer then pulled up alongside the vehicle the defendant was driving and compared him to the photograph of the car’s owner. The officer determined that the defendant was the owner of the car, and initiated a traffic stop based on the belief that the defendant’s license was revoked. As the officer was interacting with the defendant, he noticed signs of intoxication and the defendant was arrested on DUI charges.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to believe that he had a suspended license. The defendant argued that the officer’s testimony that he was able to get close enough to see the defendant was not credible.

The court dodged the credibility issue raised by the defendant and held more broadly that “reasonable suspicion exists to stop a vehicle when an officer discovers that the owner of the vehicle has a suspended license.” The court explained that reasonable suspicion does not mean that the officer has to be certain that the defendant was engaged in wrongdoing, only that there is an “objective basis to believe that criminal activity might be occurring sufficient to justify further investigation.” The court explained that an officer does not need to rule out the potentially innocent explanation of another driver – other than the owner – operating the car when the owner’s license is suspended or revoked.

Have You Been Arrested on Arizona DUI Charges?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with an Arizona DUI, contact Attorney James. E. Novak. Attorney Novak is a preeminent Arizona DUI defense attorney with extensive experience handling a wide range of complex and challenging cases. Attorney Novak stands up for his clients by zealously advocating for their rights during every stage of the proceeding. To learn more, call 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation today.

Additional Resources:

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

What Are Miranda Rights and How Do They Apply in Arizona DUI Cases?, Phoenix DUI Law Blog, October 3, 2018

Arizona Has Some of the Harshest Penalties for Those Convicted of Driving Under the Influence, Even for First-Time Offenders, Phoenix DUI Law Blog, October 17, 2018

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