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Challenging DUI stops on a lack of probable cause: Part II

This week, our posts are focusing on challenging DUI charges and convictions. Specifically, we're looking at two DUI convictions that were recently overturned after appeals courts determined that the arresting officers did not have probable cause to pull over the defendants.

Earlier this week, we wrote about a case where the officer's exaggerated testimony did not match the unimpressive video evidence taken from his squad car Dashcam. Our second example involves a subject that Wisconsin residents know all too well: trying to drive a snow-covered car right after a snowfall.

In January of 2010, an officer in Ohio pulled over a driver because his license plate was partially covered with snow and could not be easily read. The man was also allegedly driving in the middle of the road. However, there were no lane markings on the road and the sides of the street were piled with snow.

When the officer approached the car, he found he could read the license plate. He later testified that he couldn't remember if the snow fell off or if he brushed it off. Either way, it was now viewable.

But the officer continued with the traffic stop and discovered that the defendant had been drinking. The man was soon arrested for DUI and was later convicted.

Earlier this month, an appellate court reversed that ruling, saying that the officer did not have "reasonable suspicion of any criminal activity." One judge wrote: "Once he could read the license plate, he no longer had any reason to detain [the defendant] . . . and should have sent him on his way."

The officer failed to establish the need for a warrantless search, which violated the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights. The appellate judges even chided him for his inability to remember if he had brushed the snow off the license plate or if it had fallen off.

In both of our posts this week, we have discussed the need to establish probable cause. If we didn't have this protection, any police officer could pull us over for any reason. Thankfully, in these two cases, defendants were able to prove that their arrests and convictions lacked the necessary evidence for police involvement.

Source: The Newspaper.com, "Ohio: No Traffic Stop for Snow-covered License Plate," Sept. 6, 2011

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