Most DUI cases in Florida are initiated when a police officer sees a driver committing some sort of traffic violation and then pulls him/her over. If the police officer feels as if there is evidence that the driver has been drinking, the police officer will likely begin a DUI investigation. However, there are DUI cases where the defendant was stopped without violating any traffic laws.
In a recent DUI case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the driver drove down a road that was blocked by emergency vehicles farther down. Rather than turn around, the defendant kept driving down the road. The defendant later said that he felt like he had enough room to drive around the emergency vehicles. While this was not the smartest move when the driver had been drinking, he had not violated any traffic laws when he was stopped by the police. The polcie officer saw him driving down the road that was apparently blocked to see why the driver kept driving rather than turning around. After talking to the driver, the police officer initiated a DUI investigation and ultimately arrested him for DUI.
The defendant’s criminal defense lawyer challenged the stop by arguing that the police officer did not have a legal basis to stop the defendant because no traffic laws were violated. In a DUI case, if the initial stop is not legal, then whatever evidence the police officer discovers after the initial stop will likely be thrown out. Likewise, without such evidence, the DUI case will likely be dismissed.
However, the court found that the stop was valid and the DUI case could proceed. In addition to stopping drivers for violating traffic laws, police officers can also stop drivers under the community caretaker doctrine. The court found that under these unusual circumstances, the police officer could stop the driver for the protection of the driver and/or the emergency personnel who had blocked the road. If there is a reasonable basis to stop a driver to make sure the driver and/or others are safe, then the stop may be legal. After the stop, if the police officer discovers evidence of DUI or other criminal activity, the police officer will be able to investigate further.