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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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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