Friday, May 06, 2011

DWI Appeal - NJ Stop for Waiting at Green Light Illegal

In State of New Jersey v. Brackin, --- A.3d ----, 2011 WL 1661381 (N.J.Super.A.D.), the defendant was pulled over after he was stopped at a green light for 10 seconds and then pulled away without incident. The first judge found that the stop was reasonable. Counsel for defendant argued that the stop was unjustified. In support of that position, counsel relied on State v. Cryan, 320 N.J.Super. 325 (App.Div.1999), in which we held that the fact that a vehicle, at 4:25 a.m., remained stopped at a light for five seconds after it turned green, then proceeded slowly to turn left, did not justify a police stop of the vehicle under the police's community caretaking function.On appeal to the Law Division, following a review of the record and oral argument on the law, the judge found that reasonable suspicion sufficient to justify the stop had been demonstrated as the result of defendant's delay in proceeding on a green light. In reaching his conclusion, the judge relied on an unpublished opinion affirming a determination that reasonable suspicion was raised by defendant's conduct in remaining stopped after a light turned green for more than sixty seconds and by the fact that the defendant looked directly at the police officer before proceeding slowly through the intersection. In that decision, Cryan was distinguished on the basis that the delay in proceeding was much shorter and the driver did not look directly at the police. Despite the fact that the evidence in the present case more closely resembled that of Cryan than the unreported decision upon which the judge relied, he found the stop to have been justified. After finding defendant guilty, the judge imposed fines and surcharges, a two-year loss of license and registration privileges and forty-eight hours of instruction at the Intoxicated Driver's Resource Center. A stay of sentence pending appeal was denied.
The appeals court here reversed the conviction and ruled that the stop was illegal:

"[W]e agree that a pause of the length that Officer Tobin testified to observing is not of sufficient length to have raised community caretaking concerns, particularly in circumstances in which defendant's driving after commencing to proceed through the light was unexceptionable.* * * * Officer Tobin could not have had a reasonable belief that a traffic law had been violated, id. at 383, thereby justifying the stop, because as he testified, no cars followed defendant's, and thus there was indisputably no traffic to obstruct. Thus, we adhere to our conclusion that a reasonable, articulable suspicion that a motor vehicle violation had been committed was not established."

EDITORS NOTE: There are several state cases on both sides of the fence on this issue. For example, in Illinois it has been held that a delay of 3-5 seconds at a green light, while the officer is waiting behind the vehicle, is enough to stop the vehicle.

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