Rhode Island DUI Stops Based On Weaving – Was The Stop Lawful
Often, when someone is stopped for DUI/DWI, the motorist will be unsure why they were stopped. The police officer will claim that he saw the means weave and will claim that this traffic infraction provided a basis for the stop.
Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a police officer must possess what the law calls reasonable suspicion that a driver is committing a violation of the traffic laws to make a motor means stop. A shared reason for motor means stops in DUI/DWI situations, driving under the influence, is weaving or a lane roadway violation.
Under Rhode Island General Laws § 31-15-11, the statute provides as follows:
Whenever any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for travel, the following rules in additional to all others consistent with them shall apply:
A means shall be pushed as nearly as functional thoroughly within a single lane and shall not be moved from the lane until the driver has first ascertained that the movement can be made with safety.
The lane roadway statute requires the officer to testify that the roadway possesses clearly marked lanes for travel. When this is the case, a driver must continue its means within this lane as nearly functional thoroughly within its lane and shall only move from this lane when the driver has determined that it is safe to do so.
Case law interpreting similar lane roadway statutes provides helpful guidance for motorists charged with drunk driving to argue that the motor means infraction did not provide the officer with reasonable suspicion to stop the means.
In Morris v. State, 18 P.3d 1003 (2001), the Montana Supreme Court held that merely touching or crossing the fog line while driving is not a traffic infraction and was insufficient in itself and without other applicable circumstances, to create a particularized suspicion to justify a traffic stop. The Court stressed that there was no evidence showing that the motorist was speeding, driving erratically, caused an accident or near accident.
Like Morris, State v. Arriaga, 5 S.W. 3d 804 (Tex. App. 1999), provides helpful authority for motorists charging with DUI attempting to suppress a stop based on an alleged traffic violation. There, the court held that the officer’s stop of the motorist for weaving was an unlawful motor means stop as the officer could not testify as to how many times the motorist weaved, failed to testify that the motorist drove in an inconsistent or unsafe manner and failed to offer objective evidence such as the time or location of the stop to justify suspicion that the motorist was driving under the influence.
When charged with DUI/DWI, one way to defend your case may be to show that what the officer described as weaving does not fall within the definition of a traffic violation as defined by Rhode Island law. A vigorous defense requires a careful review of the roadway and police report to determine if the officer’s observation satisfies the Constitutional standard of reasonable suspicion to justify a motor means stop.
If it can be proven that there was no Constitutional basis under the Fourth Amendment for the stop, under Rhode Island law, both the DUI/DWI charge and any breathalyzer refusal charge can be successfully defended.