The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled on two separate cases that could make it easier for people who are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol to be arrested and convicted.
At issue was whether police have the right to pull people over if their vehicles drift out of the traffic lane and cross roadway markings, even if it is slightly.
The court ruled Thursday on two cases involving DUI arrests that came after motorists crossed roadway markings, according to police. The drivers argued their arrests were unconstitutional because police had no right to pull them over in the first place.
In one case out of Knox County, William Davis Jr. was observed by an officer at 2:30 a.m. crossing the double-yellow line along a curvy two-lane road. The officer stopped Davis, who he said smelled strongly of alcohol and had slurred speech.
Davis sought to have the evidence in his case suppressed, claiming the officer’s basis for pulling him over was a violation of his constitutional rights prohibiting unlawful seizure.
The state's highest court, however, said police stops for crossing roadway markings are constitutional.
Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus, who reviewed the court’s findings, said Thursday he believes the findings were “well reasoned.”
“I agree with the analysis,” he added.
The justices said that in Davis’ case, the officer had probable cause to pull him over because he violated the law by crossing the double-yellow line.
In the other case, in which the driver crossed the right fog line, the justices said it is a violation to stray outside a lane unless it is not practical to do so, such as avoiding a hazard in the road, or being blown out of the lane by a high wind.
“If the officer has reasonable suspicions, he should have an opportunity to stop a person,” Staubus said.
The justices concurred, “Reasonable suspicion requires considering all the relevant circumstances to determine if the officer had specific facts that would support a constitutionally sufficient basis for the seizure.”
Staubus noted that traffic stops do take place after officers observe drivers crossing road markings, but he could not comment on how often this occurs.
Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office deputies regularly watch for impaired drivers.
“We look for drivers who are weaving in and out of their lane of travel,” said spokeswoman Leslie Earhart. “If a driver is unable to stay in their lane of travel it is a sign that they may be impaired.”
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