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When Can a Police Officer Stop Your Vehicle?


A police officer has the right to stop your vehicle if he has probable cause to believe you have violated a traffic law, including both driving and equipment violations.

Many DUII cases begin after police officers have pulled people over for touching or driving across fog lines or center lines on the road, which constitutes the traffic infraction of Failure to Drive Within a Lane.

In a recent case from Washington County, the Oregon Court of Appeals decided the issue of whether having your vehicle touch a fog line or center line, without crossing over it, constitutes Failure to Drive Within a Lane and gives a police officer probable cause to make a traffic stop.

In that case, the defendant was convicted of driving while under the influence of intoxicants (DUII). A police officer saw the defendant come out of a bar at about 1:00 a.m. and drive away. As the officer followed, defendant’s truck tires went onto the double center line, then shortly after that, he observed the pickup’s right tires drive briefly onto the white fog line. The tires never completely crossed over the lane lines. Where defendant drove onto the fog line, the officer later described, “[y]ou can’t really go over the fog lines on that location without going off the road. The fog line’s real close to the edge of the roadway, so the tires just drove onto the fog line”.

As defendant negotiated a curve a bit further down the road, the officer saw defendant’s right tires drive onto the fog line two more times. At that point, he had been following defendant for “[m]aybe a half mile to a mile.” The officer then stopped defendant for failure to drive within his lane and on reasonable suspicion of DUII.

During the stop, the officer smelled alcohol on defendant’s breath. He also noticed that defendant had poor enunciation and bloodshot eyes and that he was swaying and stumbling. He had defendant perform field sobriety tests, which defendant failed. He also administered a breath test to defendant, which disclosed a blood alcohol content of 0.15. Defendant was charged with DUII.

Defendant went before the court and challenged the officer’s stop of his car because the stop violated his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. He asserted that the officer did not have probable cause to believe he was intoxicated after running his tires over the lane markers a total of four times during that stretch of driving. But the trial judge sided with the state and rejected the defense challenge, saying that driving onto the lines four times gave the officer sufficient reason to stop defendant.

The Court of Appeals, in State v. Vanlom, in an opinion released on Dec. 16, 2009, agreed with the trial judge. A police officer is “‘not required to eliminate all possible lawful explanations for conduct that reasonably appears to violate the law,’” and it is enough “[i]f the officer observed an action that he believed was an infraction and that belief is objectively reasonable.”

The phrase ‘within a single lane’ does not mean ‘on’ the lines that mark or divide the lanes. Rather, the statute requires that drivers stay ‘within’ the lines that mark the lanes. Defendant drove onto the lane lines four times over a relatively short distance. In fact, according to the officer’s description, when defendant first drove onto the fog line, he nearly drove off the road, given how close the line was to the edge of the roadway. Because there was no evidence that something beyond defendant’s control prevented him from operating his vehicle in his lane without touching the lane lines, that officer had probable cause to stop defendant for a violation of the law that requires drivers to drive between the lines.

Oregon DUII Lawyer James F. O’Rourke is experienced in litigating stop issues. If the stop is found to be illegal this can lead to the Court refusing to allow the admission of some or all of the evidence gathered by the police during the stop, which can cause the dismissal of the case. This is particularly important in DUII and Drug cases.

By James F. O’Rourke Jr.

The post When Can a Police Officer Stop Your Vehicle? appeared first on JFO Law.

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