DUI defense is a staple of any criminal defense attorney’s practice. As such, it is vitally important to stay up on Fourth Amendment law; specifically, when it is legal for law enforcement to stop a vehicle. Over the past month, there have been a few cases in this field. They discuss whether a momentary skid, a brief swerve onto the shoulder, and following another vehicle too closely are sufficient to stop a vehicle.
DUI Stop: A Momentary Skid
Most driver’s have experienced the sensation of their rear tires sliding out while making a turn. Unless you’re a NASCAR driver, it most commonly occurs when the road is wet and your tires are a
little worn. Just the other day my Jeep slid out as I rounded a round-a-bout in my neighborhood. In my case, I was only going a few miles per hour and certainly not being reckless with my driving but it still happened.
In State v. Olcott, FLWSUPP 2807OLCO (Duval Cty. Ct. 2020), the evidence establish it had recently rained when the Olcott turned right onto a road. As he accelerated through the turn the back tires lost traction and the back end of the pickup truck slid out to the left. Olcott then immediately corrected, gained control, and drove within his lane of travel without incident.
This momentary lapse of control caused the officer to stop Olcott for careless driving. The Careless Driving statute, Florida Statute §316.1925(1), reads: “Any person operating a vehicle upon the streets or highways within the state shall drive the same in a careful and prudent manner, having regard for the width, grade, curves, corners, traffic, and all other attendant circumstances, so as not to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.”
The Court granted the Motion to Suppress filed by Olcott’s DUI attorney because there was a reasonable basis for the momentary loss of traction and because there was no evidence that any life, limb or property was ever endangered.
DUI Stop: A Single Swerve
This is another act of driving that most drivers have had happen to them. It can happen as you change the radio station, turn to talk to your passenger, or, God forbid, you check your phone (don’t ever do that while driving). As you do this act, you temporarily swerve onto the shoulder or into a bike lane. It’s unfortunate and you should be as diligent as possible to prevent it from occurring, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve broken the law so as to justify a traffic stop.
In State v. Wright, FLWSUPP 2807WRIG (Flagler Cty. Ct. 2020), Wright was pulling a boat with his truck and the right tires briefly (approximately 5 seconds) swerved off the right side of the road, then onto the shoulder for a second. Immediately after the swerve to the right, Wright used his left turn signal when safely changing lanes from the outside right lane to the inside left lane in front of the trooper. Wright then stopped appropriately at a light. When the light turned green, the truck then proceeded appropriately through the intersection.
The Court granted the DUI attorney’s Motion to Suppress Evidence because the minor deviation coupled with the completely appropriate driving was insufficient to violate the traffic laws to support probable cause for a traffic stop.
DUI Stop: Following a Vehicle Too Closely
This one will get you pulled over and it will be perfectly legal. Following a vehicle too closely, which is typically following another vehicle at a distance less than a car length for every 10 mph of speed, is a violation of Fla. Stat. § 316.0895(1).
In State v. Hope, FLWSUPP 2807HOPE (Palm Beach Cty. Ct. 2020), Hope was following a vehicle at less than 5 car lengths while travelling over 50 mph. Additionally, Hope was travelling approximately 15 mph under the posted speed limit, swerving within his lane, and indiscriminately applying his brakes. The officer testified that while Hope could have been applying the brakes due to the speed of the vehicle ahead of him, Hope did have an available lane to utilize to pass the vehicle.
The Court denied the Motion to Suppress filed in this matter. The Court held that there was probable cause for a traffic violation (following too closely) as well as reasonable suspicion that Hope had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a violation of the laws as well (slow speed, swerving, random braking, and following too closely supported reasonable suspicion of DUI).
Call Your DUI Attorney
Adam Bantner is board certified by the Florida Bar in Criminal Trial Law and AV-rated by Martindale-Hubbell. When you or a loved one finds themselves in trouble for Driving Under the Influence, you need an expert DUI attorney. Give us a call today at 813.397.3965 for your free consultation.