Tuesday, December 20, 2011

DUI _ Mississippi Finds Driving Too Slow Stop Illegal

In Trejo v. State of Mississippi, --- So.3d ----, 2011 WL 6224477 (Miss.) Officer Chris Picou was traveling North on I–55 at approximately 1:17 a.m. when he came upon a red Chevrolet SUV with a Texas license plate traveling in the left-hand or inside lane. The SUV was traveling approximately 58–60 miles per hour in an area where the minimum posted speed limit is 45 miles per hour and the maximum is 70 miles per hour. Picou was traveling 70 miles per hour in the left-hand lane behind Trejo when he flashed his bright lights for the SUV to move over so that he could pass. When the driver failed to change lanes, Picou flashed his brights two more times, with ten seconds passing between each flash. After the third flash, Picou initiated his blue lights, and the driver immediately pulled onto the interstate shoulder.

The trial court denied the defendant's motion to suppress. The Court of Appeals held that the arresting officer lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion to make the traffic stop that led to the discovery of cocaine; thus, the trial court should have suppressed the cocaine as fruit of the poisonous tree. The Mississippi Supreme Court then reviewed the case to determine if the stop was proper under the community caretaking doctrine. 

The Supreme Court found that there was not a sufficient basis to stop the car under the community caretaking doctrine:

"Because of the risk of danger to a driver as well as the traveling public, we agree that it would be reasonable for a police officer to stop an individual who appears to be falling asleep while driving. However, the facts presented here simply do not support such an inference. There was no evidence of erratic driving. Trejo was traveling approximately 10–12 miles per hour below the maximum speed limit of 70 miles per hour and well above the minimum speed limit of 45 miles per hour in the left-hand lane around 1:00 a .m. We do not think his speed was so slow that a reasonable person would believe it indicative of distress. We also do not find that Trejo's failure to change lanes after Picou flashed his bright lights was necessarily indicative of distress, nor was it so when considered with the other facts. Picou flashed his bright lights in quick succession on a deserted stretch of interstate. And no traffic prevented Picou from passing Trejo in the right lane. We find the following analysis by the Court of Appeals especially relevant:

Trejo was not weaving or driving erratically, and there is no indication that Trejo was even aware that he was being followed by law enforcement.... This lack of awareness is supported by the fact that when Officer Picou turned on his flashing blue lights, Trejo promptly pulled over to the side of the road.

Therefore, we find that the facts presented at the suppression hearing do not justify a reasonable belief that Trejo needed help or that the public was endangered, and as such, the trial court should have granted Trejo's motion to suppress."

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