Attacking the Factual and Legal Basis for the Traffic Stop

One of the best ways to win a drunk driving case outright is to successfully challenge the factual or legal basis for the traffic stop. Because both the U.S. Constitution (U.S. Const. Amend IV) and the Michigan Constitution (Michigan Const., Art. 1, Sec. 11) place strict legal requirements on the government’s ability to seize or stop a citizen, being able to demonstrate that police failed to comply with these strictures during a traffic stop, should result in the court finding that your constitutional rights were violated. Because courts do not want to reward the police for violating your constitutional rights, courts are, generally speaking, required to penalize the police and prosecution by suppressing any evidenced seized as a result of an unconstitutional search or seizure, which means the evidence may not be used against you in court, effectively gutting the prosecutor’s case.

In order for a traffic stop to withstand such constitutional scrutiny, the police and prosecution must be able to demonstrate that the traffic stop was based on (a) probable cause to believe a civil infraction (a non-criminal violation of the motor vehicle code) has occurred or (b) “reasonable suspicion” to believe a crime is afoot, i.e., the police have a specific and articulable basis to believe a crime has been or has being committed.

A. Attacking Stops Based on Civil Infractions

In our experience, most DUI’s stem from a traffic stop based on the officer’s observation of a civil infraction such as:

  • Speeding
  • Improper lane usage, i.e., swerving, crossing the centerline or fog-line
  • Defective equipment, i.e., a burned out headlight, license plate light or taillight
  • Failure to come to a complete stop/use a turn signal
  • Expired license plates

While all of these reasons can justify a traffic stop, the underlying reason for a traffic stop is still susceptible to a legal challenge if it is not supported by a thorough, objective review of the facts. For example, it is very common for a traffic stop to be based on an allegation of swerving, but a careful review of the in-car video may not show any swerving. Such cases are ripe for a challenge. The DUI attorneys at Springstead Bartish & Borgula Law will carefully review the basis for your traffic stop and try and win your case by aggressively challenging any unlawful stops.

B. Undermining Traffic Stops Based on Suspected Criminal Activity

A police officer can also stop you or detain you if they have a sufficient legal basis (reasonable suspicion or probable cause) to believe that a crime has been or is being committed. Some of the more common crimes alleged include:

  • Drunk-driving (often times based on erratic driving or a call to 911 from another driver, a bar or restaurant patron, a storeowner, an angry domestic partner, or a car parked on the side of the road with an unresponsive driver (asleep or passed out))
  • Reckless driving (erratic or high-speed driving)
  • Fleeing & eluding the police
  • Failure to stop at a property damage accident, i.e., a hit & run accident
  • An auto accident on the road
  • Invalid/Expired License Plates or Registration
  • Driving without a valid license

No matter the initial justification for the traffic stop, our drunk driving defense attorneys will conduct an independent review of the facts and determine whether a legal challenge is warranted. If our review indicates that police did not have a valid legal basis for a traffic stop, we will attack the basis for the stop and ask the court to suppress any evidence seized after the traffic stop, depriving the prosecution of crucial evidence it relies upon to garner a conviction.

With offices in Grand Rapids as well as Fremont, the West Michigan Drunk Driving Defense Attorneys at Springstead Bartish & Borgula Law regularly defend DUI Charges in the Greater Grand Rapids Area, Hudsonville, Holland, Grand Haven, Muskegon, Hart, Ludington, White Cloud, and Big Rapids. Contact us online or call now Grand Rapids 616.458.5500 | Fremont 231.924.8700