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New York Court Determines Officer Lacked Reasonable Suspicion to Stop Motorist, Suppressing Breath-Alcohol Test Results

Recently, a New York court issued a written opinion in a New York DWI case granting the defendant’s motion to suppress the results of the field sobriety tests administered by the arresting officer. The court also granted the defendant’s motion to suppress the results of the chemical testing that was performed on the defendant’s breath.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was pulled over by a police officer after the officer believed he had witnessed a traffic violation. Evidently, the officer was about 300 feet behind the defendant’s vehicle with another car between them when the officer saw the defendant’s car swerve within its lane. The officer testified that the swerving lasted for a few seconds. At one point, the defendant’s car briefly crossed the fog line and then returned to its lane.

The officer explained that after he pulled the defendant’s vehicle over, he noticed that the defendant smelled of alcohol. A field sobriety test was administered, and the defendant was arrested and taken to the station for a breath-alcohol test. The defendant was later charged with two counts of DUI and filed a motion to suppress the field sobriety and chemical test results.

The Court’s Analysis

During the motion, the prosecution advanced three theories as to why the evidence should be allowed. First, the prosecution argued that the officer had reasonable suspicion to believe that the defendant was driving under the influence. The court rejected this argument, noting that the officer’s stated reason for initiating the traffic stop was that the defendant was swerving and crossed over the fog line, not that the defendant was intoxicated. The court explained that the fact that the defendant swerved for a few seconds and crossed the fog line once was not indicative of drunk driving.

The prosecution then argued that the officer was reasonable to believe that the defendant had violated a traffic law when he initiated the stop. The court also rejected this argument. The court explained that under New York traffic law it is only against the law to drive on the shoulder of a controlled access highway. Here, it was undisputed that the road where the defendant was pulled over was not a controlled access highway. The court held that the officer’s belief that the road was a controlled access highway was not reasonable, explaining that the road was within the officer’s jurisdiction and clearly did not fit within the definition of a controlled access road.

Finally, the court rejected the prosecution’s argument that the traffic stop was a valid exercise of the officer’s community caretaking function. The court held that to justify a stop under the community caretaking function, the reason for the stop must be “totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence” of criminal conduct.” Here, the court pointed out that the officer was investigating what he (unreasonably) believed to be a traffic infraction, and thus, the traffic stop was not one of community caretaking.

Have You Been Arrested for a New York DUI?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a New York DUI, contact one of the dedicated New York criminal defense attorneys at the law firm of Tilem & Associates. At Tilem & Associates, we have decades of experience representing those charged with all types of crimes across the New York area, ranging from serious felonies to first-time misdemeanors. To learn more about how we can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 877-377-8666 to schedule a free consultation today.

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