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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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