Novi OWI Arrest - 52-1 District Court - Challenging the Traffic Stop in Drunk Driving Case
Jody - Teacher - City of Novi (52-1 District Court) - First Offense OWI
Jody is 25 year old, and has just entered the teaching profession. She is single with no children, but relies upon her license to get to and from work, and is worried about losing her job if convicted of drunk driving. The traffic stop was made by the City of Novi Police Department and prosecuted at the 52-1 Court by the City of Novi.
Jody was driving down Grand River in Novi, and a patrol officer was on a drunk driving patrol in the area. Jody was pulled over moments later and when the officer approached the window, she was informed that she was weaving in her car, and she failed to signal while changing lanes. Jody was cooperative and answered all of the officers questions about that evening.
Jody submitted to a preliminary breath test and registered a 0.13; she also performed some field sobriety tests, which the police report indicates she failed to follow numerous directions and in the officer’s opinion her performance showed impairment. She later agreed to submit to a chemical test at the police station, and registered a 0.14 on the Datamaster.
At this point, the prosecution has evidence of driving, at least one traffic violation which justified the traffic stop, poor performance on the field sobriety tests, a PBT over the legal limit and a Datamaster result above the limit as well. This case may have a number of issues, but the most important issue to look into is the traffic stop, because the officer’s police report appeared to indicate that weaving within a traffic lane was a traffic code violation, because under Michigan law, it is not, and not a valid reason for a traffic stop. Assuming the officer would acknowledge that on the stand at an evidentary hearing, we still need to overcome failure to use a signal.
The next step is to review the dash cam video of the police and see if we’re able to confirm the lack of the traffic signal.
According to Whren v United States, 517 US 806, 813 (1996), as long as the officer actually observed a traffic infraction, he or she can make the traffic stop regardless of any subjective alternative reason for making the stop. Further, People v Dillon, 296 Mich App 506, 822 NW2d 611 (2012) says whether there was reasonable suspicion to justify stop must be made case by case, evaluated under totality of circumstances and based on common sense; officer’s subjective intent is irrelevant to validity of stop)
How this case may play out: If the video confirms failure to use a traffic signal then there’s a great argument to be made that the officer lacked the ability to make a legal traffic stop. If the video shows failure to use a traffic signal then a stop would be justified. If a video does not exist, or does not show use or non-use of the traffic signal then the judge would have to rely upon the officer’s testimony under oath, and would most likely uphold the stop based on the officer’s testimony unless the defense is able to put that testimony into question by showing the officer to be untruthful, unreliable or to show contradicting evidence.