If you have been charged with a driving while impaired (DWI / DUI) in Wake County, it is likely that you were stopped for “failure to maintain lane control” or “weaving within your lane of travel.” This type of traffic violation is less clear cut than a stop for speeding, failure to stop at a stop light or reckless driving. Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a stop for weaving or swerving requires the State to prove to the Court that the officer had reasonable articulable suspicion.
When examining an impaired driving (DWI/DUI) case for a client, one of the first things Attorney Chris Dozier reviews is the stop of your vehicle. If the State fails to prove your stop was valid, then evidence obtained by the officer as a result of your stop (field sobriety tests, admissions and BAC) can be suppressed which may lead to your case being dismissed.
Law Enforcement Officers receive training in order to assist them in detecting impaired drivers. This training is presented to them by The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA). One of the first things officers are trained to look for is the “vehicle in motion” in order to conduct a stop for impaired driving. There are approximately 24 different “visual clues” officers are instructed to look for to assist them in the detection of drivers who are impaired. Both “weaving” and “swerving” are two of the listed clues.
NHTSA defines weaving occurring when “the vehicle alternately moves toward one side of the roadway and then the other, creating a zig-zag course” of for extreme case of weaving when “the vehicle wheels cross the lane lines before correction is made.” Our Courts in North Carolina have found reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle for weaving in a few of the following ways:
1. “[W]eaving can contribute to a reasonable suspicion of driving while impaired. However, in each instance, the defendant’s weaving was coupled with additional specific articulable facts, which also indicated that the defendant was driving while impaired.” State v. Aubin, 100 N.C.App. 628, 397 S.E.2d 653 (1990).
2. Weaving towards both sides of the lane, plus driving twenty miles per hour below the speed limit. State v. Jones, 326 N.C. 366 (1990).
3. Weaving within lane five to six times, plus driving off the road. State v. Adkerson, 368 S.E.2d 434 (1988).
4. Weaving towards both sides of the lane, plus driving twenty miles per hour below the speed limit. State v. Thompson, 571 S.E.2d 673 (2002).
5. Weaving, standing alone, “can be sufficient to arouse a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity of driving while impaired when it is particularly erratic and dangerous to other drivers.” State v. Derbyshire, 745 S.E.2d 886, 892 (2013).
As noted in each of these prior cases, including State vs. Derbyshire, our Courts have indicated that a stop for weaving likely needs to be accompanied by something else in order for the stop to be valid. This “something else” is fairly vague and thus it is important to hire a DWI/DUI lawyer that knows the case law and will fight for your case should you get stopped for DWI/DUI. Some examples our Courts have noted regarding the “something else” may be:
1. Driving at an unusual hour and his proximity to establishments that serve alcohol are additional factors the court can consider to determine whether the officer had reasonable suspicion to effectuate the stop. State v. Fields, 219 N.C. App. 385 (2012).
2. Weaving within the lane and driving on the dividing line of the highway at 2:30 a.m. on a road near a nightclub. State v. Watson, 122 N.C.App. 596, 599-600, 472 S.E.2d 28, 30 (1996).
3. The weaving was constant and continual. State v. Otto, 726 S.E.2d 824 (2012).
NHTSA defines “swerving” as “an abrupt turn away from a generally straight course. Swerving might occur directly after a period of driving when the driver discovers the approach of traffic in an oncoming lane or discovers that the vehicles is going off the road; swerving might also occur as an abrupt turn is executed to return the vehicle to the traffic lane.” Similarly to weaving, swerving also requires that the officer be able to articulate to the Court that your bad driving was obvious. In most instances our Courts require that “weaving” plus “something else” standard is also applied in swerving cases.
The trial court is to consider “the totality of the circumstances—the whole picture” in determining whether the officer had a reasonable suspicion of driving while impaired (DWI/DUI). Styles, 362 N.C. at 414 (2008). It is important that you hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer who is willing to look into all issues surrounding your stop and arrest for DWI/DUI and fight for your case. It is the burden of the State of North Carolina to show the Court that your stop was legal.
Attorney Chris Dozier will bring his knowledge and experience as both a former DWI/DUI Prosecutor and Criminal Defense Lawyer to work for you and require the State to prove its burden! If you have been charged with driving while impaired (DWI / DUI) in Raleigh, contact Criminal Defense Attorney Chris Dozier today to schedule your free consultation.