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Florida DUI Officer Could Not Stop Driver for Swerving in His Lane

In order for a DUI case to go forward in Florida, the initial stop of the driver must be legal. In other words, if the initial stop of the driver by the police officer is not a valid stop, all evidence that the police officer obtains after the stop should be thrown out, which would likely make proving the DUI case too difficult to proceed.

Most DUI cases start with a police officer indicating that he/she observed the suspect violate one or more traffic laws as he/she was driving. Usually, that is sufficient for a traffic stop. From there, the police officer will allege the standard signs of impairment (odor of alcohol, bloodshot and glassy eyes, slurred speech, and so on), and the DUI investigation goes on from there.

However, not all alleged driving conduct is a legitimate basis for a stop and DUI investigation. In a recent DUI case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was driving in a lane that was narrower than normal. Depending on the type of road, driving lanes are normally 10 – 12 feet in width. The police officer in this DUI case testified that he saw the defendant swerve in his narrow lane to the point of driving on top of the lane dividing line. The police officer did not see him drive into the other lane or commit any other traffic violations such as speeding or running a red light. The police officer also did not observe the defendant make any sudden movements with the vehicle, cause any other vehicles to react to him or endanger anyone. The police officer pulled the defendant over for swerving in his lane and subsequently initiated a DUI investigation.

After the defendant was arrested and charged with DUI, the criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained during the DUI investigation because the initial stop was not valid. The initial stop in a DUI case must be based on probable cause to believe the driver violated the traffic laws or is driving while impaired from alcohol or drugs. Driving onto the dividing line is not a traffic violation that can justify a stop. If the driver was driving in such a way that he was endangering himself or others, that could be the basis for a traffic stop. However, that is a subjective determination based on the particular circumstances. In this case, there was nothing about driving onto the dividing line on a narrow road that suggested anyone was in particular danger, especially given the fact that no traffic laws were being broken.

As a result, the police officer was not justified in stopping the defendant. Therefore, the subsequent DUI evidence was thrown out, and the DUI case was dismissed.