For a police officer to pull over an individual for a suspected DWI, they must have reasonable suspicion or probable cause in order to justify the stop. This reasonable suspicion or probable cause must be based on specific, articulable facts. After observing these facts, the officer must reasonably conclude that, based on his experience, there is criminal activity present.
Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration compiled a list of twenty-four different factors that should determine whether there is reasonable suspicion for a stop, up until recently, these factors were considered just suggestions. However, this changed when the N.C. Court of Appeals recognized all of the twenty-four DWI detection cues taught by NHSTA in State v. Bonds, 533 S.E.2d 855, 149 N.C. App. 627 (2000).
State v. Bonds
In State v. Bonds, a police officer initiated a DWI stop after he observed the defendant stopped at a traffic light. The police officer noticed several suspicious factors about the defendant including that fact that he had his window rolled down, even though it was the middle of winter and that he was driving at a slow speed with a blank expression on his face. The police officer then initiated a DWI traffic stop, breathalyzed the defendant, and found that he had a Blood Alcohol Count of .13. On appeal, the court determined that these factors that the officer observed were legitimate reasons for initiating a DWI traffic stop due to reasonable suspicion and probable cause being fulfilled.
This is a list of the factors:
- Weaving across lanes
- Straddling a lane line
- Almost striking a vehicle or object
- Turning with a wide radius, or drifting during curve
- Stopping problems (too far, too short, too jerky)
- Accelerating for no reason
- Varying speed
- Slow speed
- Driving without headlights at night
- Failure to signal a turn or lane change, or signaling inconsistently with actions
- Driving in opposing lane or wrong way on one-way street
- Slow response to traffic signals
- Slow or failure to respond to officer’s signals
- Stopping in lane for no apparent reason
- Following too closely
- Improper or unsafe lane change
- Illegal or improper turn (too fast, jerky, or sharp)
- Driving on other than designated roadway
- Stopping inappropriately in response to an officer
- Inappropriate or unusual behavior
- Appearing to be impaired
However, it is important to note that speeding is not a factor of a DWI recognized by the NHTSA. This is important because some police officers base their decision to pull over an individual for a DWI based on their speed. When this is a motivating factor for a stop, there exists an argument for questioning the reasonable suspicion of the stop. It has been stipulated that normal driving behavior does not equal reasonable suspicion. Since speeding is generally considered normal driving behavior, there is not reasonable suspicion or probable cause to initiate a traffic stop.
If you have been charged with a DWI in North Carolina, you should consult with an experienced DWI attorney about your case. Contact Us at Minick Law for a free consultation with an experienced attorney who can help you navigate the DWI process.