Too Many People in a Vehicle is Not Necessarily a Legal basis for a DUI Stop

In Florida, the sequence of a DUI arrest usually goes as follows: a police officer observes a person commit a traffic violation, the police officer stops the driver, the police officer allegedly observes signs that the driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs, the police officer starts a DUI investigation including a field sobriety test if the driver agrees to take it and then a DUI arrest. However, none of the steps following the stop are valid to establish a DUI conviction if the initial stop is illegal.

In a recent DUI case near Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was driving a vehicle with two seats- one for the driver and one for a passenger- but he had two people in the passenger seat. The police officer saw this and also allegedly saw the driver drive over the double yellow line although no vehicles in the opposite lane were around and at risk. Based on those two reasons, the police officer stopped the driver and ultimately conducted a DUI investigation.

The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress all of the evidence of the DUI obtained after the initial stop arguing that the stop was invalid. The court agreed that the police officer could not legally stop the defendant because he had too many people in his car. Having too many people in your car, by itself, is not a legal basis to initiate a traffic stop. The police officer would have to testify that the extra person(s) obstructed the driver’s view or otherwise interfered with the driver. There was no such testimony in this case. However, crossing the double lines, even if no other cars are around and no one was endangered, is a traffic violation and was a sufficient basis to initiate the traffic stop. When a police officer gives multiple reasons for a traffic stop and at least one of them is valid, the evidence will not be suppressed based on the initial traffic stop.

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