How Swerving in Traffic Can Lead to a DWI Conviction

November 14th, 2019 by Tad Nelson in Drunk Driving, DWI

A Houston police officer only needs “reasonable suspicion” of DWI to stop and pull you over for further investigation. One thing that can lead the officer to form such reasonable suspicion is observing other traffic violations. For example, if you are swerving in-and-out of different lanes while driving, that could form a legal basis for the officer to initiate a stop.

Houston Court Finds Officer Had “Reasonable Suspicion” to Initiate Arrest

A recent decision from the Texas First District Court of Appeals here in Houston, Perez v. State, helps to illustrate this point. The events leading up to this case took place just after midnight one morning in December 2017. A Harris County deputy constable was on patrol near Beltway 8. The deputy observed a car traveling by itself on the road–there was no other traffic in the immediate vicinity.

Despite the empty road, the deputy said that over the course of about one minute, he observed the driver–the defendant in this case–drifting from her lane four times “with distances ranging from a few inches to a few feet.” After the fourth drift, the deputy said he initiated a traffic stop. The deputy later testified in court he suspected at that point the defendant might be intoxicated. After determining there was probable cause to make an arrest, the deputy charged the defendant with misdemeanor DWI.

Before the trial court, the defendant filed a motion to suppress any evidence gathered during the traffic stop, arguing the deputy conducted an unconstitutional warrantless search. The trial judge denied the motion to suppress. The defendant then agreed to plead guilty to DWI but reserved her right to appeal.

On appeal, the defendant renewed her objection to the deputy’s decision to initiate a traffic stop. She maintained there was not “reasonable suspicion” to suspect she was driving drunk or committed a traffic violation. The First District disagreed and affirmed the DWI conviction.

The appeals court explained that reasonable suspicion requires that an officer “point to specific and articulable facts, which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant” a decision to initiate a traffic stop. In other words, the officer must rely on something beyond a mere “hunch” or “good-faith suspicion.”

Here, the deputy testified that the defendant “drifted out of her lane four times in approximately one minute.” Indeed, the appeals court noted that at one point, the defendant’s vehicle “completely straddled the line separating the lanes of traffic.” In other words, this was not a case where the defendant went an inch over the line one time. Given these facts, as well as the deputy’s experienced in identifying drunk drivers, the First District said this was a textbook case where the officer had reasonable suspicion.

Speak with a Houston DWI Defense Lawyer Today

DWI convictions often turn on the legality of the arresting officer’s actions. An experienced Houston DWI defense attorney can assist you in challenging any behavior on the part of law enforcement that fails to respect your constitutional rights. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today in League City, Houston, or Galveston if you need legal representation following a drunk driving arrest. Call 281-280-0100.

 

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