Wednesday, April 27, 2016

CCA: No safety element required for police to stop drivers on lane-change violations

TDCAA's weekly opinion analysis suggested that Lemon v. State "may be one of the more significant traffic stop decisions that the [Texas Court of Criminal Appeals] has issued."

The issue before the court, according to their summary, was "Does failure to maintain a single lane of traffic while driving need to be considered 'unsafe' before it can constitute an offense under §545.060(a) of the Transportation Code?" The result: "A plurality of the court agreed that a driver does not have to both fail to maintain a single lane of traffic AND attempt to move from that lane in an unsafe manner before it can be considered an offense. Either of these actions is enough to support a police officer’s stop and temporary detention."

Read Judge Yeary's plurality opinion, a concurrence by Judge Richardson, and dissents by Judges Keasler (joined by Johnson and Hervey, of all combinations) and Newell in a case which split the court along unusual fault lines, and for that reason may be worth particular attention.

TDCAA's commentary notes that this prosecution-friendly decision overturned prior precedents:
Failure to drive within a single lane of traffic is a very common reason for stopping motorists, especially in driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases. This decision expressly disagrees with two prior court of appeals decisions and will be very helpful for law enforcement. The court re-emphasizes (if it still needed emphasis) that an officer does not need probable cause, but only reasonable suspicion, to conduct a traffic stop. The court also upheld the officer’s actions based upon reasonable suspicion to investigate for DWI. All prosecutors need to read this decision.
Some liberty-oriented legislator ought to take a closer look at this. There should be some public-safety reason for dubbing lane wobbling a traffic offense; otherwise, this just becomes an almost-universal pretext to pull people over. Bad decision from a preserve-the-Fourth-Amendment perspective.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why should someone who can't stay in a lane not be stopped? They're either drunk, high, texting, distracted, or doing something besides paying attention. Regardless of the reason, it's dangerous and can cause a serious accident. I want them stopped before they hit me.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

RE: Why? Read the linked dissents.

Bottom line, it's subject to abuse. Nearly everybody violates this one at times, but that doesn't mean they're not driving safely.

Anonymous said...

Not a plurality. It's nothing. Judges evenly split on the issue.

Anonymous said...

Grits, many things are subject to abuse in the wrong hands but we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

So, 6:32, your "baby" is pulling people over for lane wobbling when they pose no safety threat? That's an awfully ugly baby, I think I'm fine throwing it out with the bathwater. Or, we can keep the bathwater and drown it, either way.

Anonymous said...

"Lane wobbling" merits someone taking a look into it Grits. The driver might be falling asleep, juiced up on booze, or whatever else but given they are driving on public roads in a very heavy object that they are having trouble controlling safely, I'd go a step further and insist the cops check into what is wrong. The suggestion that being unable to keep a car in a single lane is not a safety issue seems a stretch of the imagination, perhaps you take the bus to work but those of us on the road see wrecks all the time from behaviors like this. Aside from the wobbling driver, if someone starts to drift in your lane on the freeway, your reaction or the reactions of others may well cause accidents too, the whole idea behind traffic laws being to codify expected behaviors so we're all on the same page. By your way of thinking, the possibility that some cop might use a law to further his abusive nature would then result in getting rid of all laws, the ruling seems reasonable this time.

Anonymous said...

Then maybe citizens need to start waving police officers over when they drift over the line while typing on their computer instead of pulling over to type. This is one of the most prevalent causes of accidents involving police officers and and victims of their negligence.

Ryan Turner said...

"in a case which split the court along unusual fault lines, and for that reason may be worth particular attention." Or worth little particular attention because it consist of a series of pluralities and dissents?

Anonymous said...

The name of the case is Leming v. State, not Lemon, for those who are looking to find it--but the plurality opinion did leave a bitter taste in my mouth nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

This is already a non-issue for the wealthy. Many new cars have systems in place to prevent lane changes without turn signal on first. More and more cars will add these features. This is will be even less of an issue with self-driving cars. Seems to me only the poor will be affected for the near future.