Wednesday, December 28, 2011

DUI Law - Arizona Says Illegal Stop for One Brake Light Means Dismissal of Charges

In State of Arizona v. Fikes, --- P.3d ----, 2011 WL 6318947 (Ariz.App. Div. 2) a police officer observed that the brake light located at the top rear of Fikes's vehicle was not working and stopped him for violating A.R.S. § 28–939. The vehicle's two other brake lights were working. The officer observed no other traffic infractions, nor did the officer articulate any other reason for the stop. After stopping the vehicle, the officer discovered Fikes had been driving under the influence of alcohol. Fikes moved to suppress all of the evidence obtained from the traffic stop on the grounds the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to make the stop. The trial court denied the motion and evidence of the investigation was presented at trial. After Fikes was convicted and sentenced, he appealed.

On appeal, the defendant claimed that the statute only required one working stop lamp, and he had 2 of 3 in working condition. The statutes read that: “A person ... shall not drive a vehicle on the highways unless it is equipped with a stop lamp that meets the requirements of § 28–939.” A.R.S. § 28–927. Section 28–939 is titled “Signal Lamps and Devices,” sets forth some technical requirements for stop and other lamps, and provides in relevant part: “If a vehicle is equipped with a stop lamp or other signal lamps, the lamp or lamps shall: 1. Be maintained at all times in good working condition. 2. Not project a glaring or dazzling light.”

The court found that the statute only required one working lamp, and so they reversed the conviction. At oral argument, the state contended the legislature could have wanted to require all installed stop lamps to work because a non-functioning stop lamp could confuse other drivers. In response, the court wrote:

"However, the legislative history does not indicate that the legislature was concerned with this possibility. And nothing in the record indicates any other driver was or could have been confused here. The state also claimed this decision could discourage police officers from stopping dangerous vehicles under a public-safety or community-welfare exception. See, e.g., State v. Mendoza–Ruiz, 225 Ariz. 473, 240 P.3d 1235 (App.2010); State v. Organ, 225 Ariz. 43, 234 P.3d 611 (App.2010). But the officer here did not testify that he was motivated by public safety or community welfare." Looking for a Top DUI DWI Attorney? Visit Americas Top DUI and DWI Attorneys at or call 1-800-DIAL-DUI to find a DUI OUI DWI Attorney Lawyer Now!

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