Blue Lights. Uh-Oh. Why is this cop pulling me over?
Why is this cop pulling me over? I am sure you have asked yourself this question. We ALL have.
You are probably familiar with the feeling of a knot twisting in your stomach thinking about the repercussions, even though you don’t think you were doing anything wrong. Or worse, when you are fully aware you were speeding and know that a ticket is coming.
Can they pull me over for that?
I’ve heard many reasons for why an officer chose to pull over my clients. If the officer’s actions are not in line with the current law, this is considered to be a bad stop. In the legal realm, a bad stop is known as an illegal seizure.
In Tennessee, as with other states, there are several remedies for a bad stop. If the officer’s actions do not adhere to the current law, the stop and any evidence found as a result of the stop can be suppressed. When evidence is suppressed, the State’s prosecutors cannot use the evidence against you.
What does it mean for a stop to be illegal?
The most common way for a bad stop to be suppressed is for the Judge to decide that there is a lack of reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Probable cause exists when a reasonable person – given the set of facts and circumstances – would believe that an offense had been committed.
A Motion to Suppress is used to ask the Court to determine whether the officer had a reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop the vehicle. When a Court grants a Motion to Suppress, it means the officer did not have enough information to believe that a crime was being committed or that the officer had no reason to investigate a potential crime being committed.
For many years, Tennessee defense lawyers have used the Motion to Suppress to have evidence suppressed because the officer did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to make the stop.
The Criminal Court of Appeals recently made new law in State of Tennessee v. Linzey Danielle Smith. In the Smith case, Ms. Smith was stopped because she failed to maintain her lane of travel – she briefly crossed the white lines twice. This stop resulted in a DUI conviction.
In this case, the court made the following ruling (which is now law):
“We understand that our holding in this case will likely mean all drivers (including law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges) who briefly cross a fog line on the highways in Tennessee can be pulled over on the basis that the otherwise “innocent” driver has established probable cause that he or she has committed a Class C misdemeanor criminal offense.” T.C.A. 55-8-123(1)
How does this new law apply to you?
Officers can pull you over AT ANY TIME to investigate whether you are maintaining your lane. If you cross the white line, officers do not have to have probable cause to pull you over. Instead, they can pull you over to investigate a crime even if it means you would be found innocent of that crime. This is true for ANY traffic violation that is a C misdemeanor or higher.
My friends, the days of using the Motion to Suppress based on an illegal stop may well be over in Tennessee.