Got Probable Cause?
A vast majority of DUI cases start with a law enforcement officer conducting a traffic stop on a vehicle for some type of infraction. The infractions vary from speeding all the way to failure to maintain a single lane.
Generally speaking, to conduct a valid traffic stop, an officer needs probable cause. But what is probable cause?
An officer has probable cause “where the facts and circumstances within an officer’s knowledge and of which he had reasonable trustworthy information are sufficient in themselves to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense had been committed.” Baden v. State, 174 So.3d 494, 496 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015) citing Stone v. State, 856 So.2d 1109, 1111 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003) quoting State v. Byham, 394 So.2d 1142, 1143 (Fla. 4th DCA 1981)).
For example, if an officer points his radar gun on a vehicle and it shows that the vehicle is going 65 miles per hour and the officer knows that the speed limit is 45 miles per hour, the officer would have probable cause to pull that vehicle over. However, not every set of facts is that simple and clear cut.
For instance, if an officer observes a vehicle weave from its lane of travel once, maybe twice, an officer would have probable cause to stop that vehicle for failing to maintain a single lane, right?
Well, not necessarily. Florida courts have found that failure to maintain a single lane alone cannot establish probable cause for a traffic stop when the action is done safely. Hurd v. State, 958 So. 2d 600, 603 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007). If no one is endangered by a driver’s failure to maintain a single lane, then there is not enough for an officer to establish a reasonable safety concern. Peeples v. State, 173 So. 3d 1123 (Fla. 2d DCA 2015).
One court found that an officer did not have probable cause where a driver weaved within lane three times within ¾ mile and weave out of lane once before quickly correcting back into her lane. Harapas v. State, 22 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 989a (Fla. 7th Cir. Cnty. Ct. August 4, 2014).
In another case, a deputy testified that a vehicle stopped at a stop sign at an intersection and then traveled approximately 30 feet on the wrong side of the road, crossing over a painted double yellow line until it returned to the correct lane. The court found that because no other vehicle traffic was affected, and no other erratic or unusual driving was observed, the deputy did not have enough probable cause to conduct the traffic stop. State v. Cole, 24 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 632b (Fla. 7th Cir. Cty. Ct. November 17, 2016).
As you can see, traffic stops aren’t always as cut and dry as a police report may make it read. Just because you were pulled over doesn’t mean you should have been pulled over.
The attorneys at Meldon Law have the knowledge and experience to evaluate whether a traffic stop was illegal and therefore whether evidence obtained after the traffic stop should be suppressed in your case.
If you are charged with a driving offense, call Meldon Law. We have the knowledge and experience to help defend you and protect your rights. Call us at 352-373-8000 to set up a free consultation.