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Court of Appeals rethinks previous opinion on traffic stops

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Citing several cases from other jurisdictions, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded that brief contact with the fog line or swerving within a lane ordinarily is not sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion of impaired driving.

In Joanna S. Robinson v. State of Indiana, 20A04-1209-CR-561, Robinson was stopped after a sheriff’s deputy observed her drive off the right side of the road twice. During the traffic stop, Robinson failed three sobriety tests and admitted she had marijuana in her bra.

At trial, Robinson filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained at the traffic stop, asserting the deputy lacked reasonable suspicion to stop her because the video from the sheriff’s car showed that she stayed within her lane.

While the trial court conceded it could not conclude from the video that her car actually left the road, the court did see the vehicle veering on two occasions onto the fog line which is sufficient to justify a stop. It subsequently denied Robinson’s motion.

Robinson was convicted of operating a vehicle with a suspended license, a Class A misdemeanor; possession of marijuana, a Class A misdemeanor; and operating a vehicle while intoxicated, a Class A misdemeanor.

The COA ruled that Robinson’s brief contact with the fog line was not sufficient to provide reasonable suspicion that she was impaired. Consequently, the court found the evidence obtained from the stop should not have been admitted and Robinson’s convictions must be reversed.

At the appeal, both parties referenced Barrett v. State, 837 N.E.2d 1022 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), trans. denied (2006). Here the majority concluded that driving on the fog line was a sign of impairment and combined with a tip about drug activity, provided reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop.

However, Judge Paul Mathias dissented, arguing that briefly touching the fog line was insufficient to establish reasonable suspicion.

Writing for the court in the Robinson opinion, Judge Terry Crone, who authored the Barrett decision, agreed with the point made in the dissent.

“The Barrett majority’s analysis of the driver’s swerving onto the fog line was intertwined with analysis of the tip concerning possible drug activity, a circumstance not present (in Robinson),” Crone wrote. “Nevertheless, to the extent that Barrett may be read to stand for the proposition that briefly driving on the fog line is necessarily sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion of impaired driving, we acknowledge that it likely goes too far. Further review of the cases cited in the dissent, their progeny, and additional authorities from other jurisdictions leads us to the conclusion that brief contact with the fog line or swerving within a lane ordinarily is not sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion of impaired driving.”



 

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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