Sunday, January 27, 2008

Careful Driving Does Not Reasonable Suspicion Make

In another defense win, the Court of Appeals in Salt Lake City v. Bench upheld the trial court's decision to suppress the evidence obtained following a traffic stop of the defendant's vehicle. The City argued that the stop of the defendant's vehicle was proper where there was a tip from the defendant's ex-wife stating that the defendant had transported his children while intoxicated. In addition, the City relied on the officer's observations once he located the vehicle. The officer did not observe any traffic violations, but insisted that traveling 10 mph below the speed limit and signalling for five seconds (instead of the requisite 3 seconds) were indicative of overly cautious (and thus impaired) driving.

The Court of Appeals rejects the City's position that the officer's stop was justified by reasonable suspicion. The court first notes that the tip provided little detail and any corroboration was limited to innocuous observations. Similarly, the court gives less weight to the tip because of the fact that it came from the defendant's ex-wife, citing a number of cases in support of the proposition that such a tip is less reliable since it may come from someone bearing ill will or malice toward the former spouse/partner.

In addition, the court rejected the assertion that cautious driving gave the officer reasonable suspicion. As the court noted, "[p]rudent driving--going slower than the posted speed limit in a residential area and signaling for a couple of seconds longer than the statutory minimum--is simply not suspicious. It is commendable."

All in all, the decision in Bench provides ample fodder for defense counsel regarding tips and corroboration of innocent details. Similarly, counsel faced with the familiar contention that your client was driving too safely ought to use this decision to dispel any suspicions of impaired driving.

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