State Court Addresses Whether New York DWI Stop Was Lawful

An appellate court recently reversed a defendant’s motion to suppress all evidence from a New York DWI stop. According to the record, a police officer testified that he received a report that people were smoking marijuana in a white sedan. The informants provided the officer with a license plate number and an approximate location. Coincidentally, the officer was driving right behind the vehicle in question. As the officer was following the vehicle, he noticed the car’s tires go up a curb while the driver attempted to make a right turn. Another police officer testified that she arrived at the scene while the tires went up the curb. Both officers testified that seconds after the tires went up the curb, the original officer turned on the police car’s emergency lights and stopped the sedan. During the stop, the officers detected the smell of marijuana and subsequently arrested the driver.

The accused motioned the court to suppress all evidence from the stop because the vehicle stop was illegal. The City Court issued an order finding that the People did not meet their burden of establishing the lawfulness of the stop. In response, the People appealed, contending that the stop was lawful.

Under New York’s Vehicle and Traffic Laws § 1225-a, no person shall drive on or across a sidewalk. An exception exists if the driver must drive on the sidewalk if it is reasonable and necessary. In those situations, the driver must not exceed five miles per hour or interfere with the safety and passage of pedestrians.

Generally, police may stop a vehicle whenever they have probable cause to believe that the operator has committed a traffic infraction regardless of how minor. However, in certain situations, courts have found traffic stops to be improper. Some examples include when the stop was nothing more than a routine traffic check, when officers lacked probable cause to believe that the accused committed a traffic offense, and when they stop stemmed primarily from the fact that the vehicle was parked in a high crime area.

In this case, the officers both testified that they witnessed the driver drive on the sidewalk. The appellate court reasoned that this observation established that the officer had reasonable cause to believe that the driver violated the relevant Vehicle and Traffic laws. As such, the court found that the officer had probable cause to effectuate a traffic stop. Ultimately, the court reversed the defendant’s motion to suppress all of the evidence recovered from the traffic stop.

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