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Massachusetts Court Upholds DUI Conviction, Finding Traffic Stop Was Valid

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Massachusetts DUI case upholding the defendant’s conviction after affirming the denial of his motion to suppress. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer’s stop of the defendant was justified based on the officer’s observations that the defendant’s vehicle drifted across the right fog line for two or three seconds.

According to the court’s opinion, an officer stopped the defendant in the early morning hours on Route 202 after he noticed the defendant’s vehicle drift over the right fog line for a few seconds. Upon the officer’s approach and subsequent discussion with the defendant, the officer concluded that the defendant was likely under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Thus, the officer arrested the defendant for DUI.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of the stop, arguing that the officer did not have a basis to conduct the traffic stop. A video of the incident confirms that the defendant briefly drifted out of his lane for a few seconds before returning to his lane. Other than that brief departure, the defendant’s driving was not called into question. The lower court granted the defendant’s motion, holding that “crossing a fog line one time for a few seconds does not constitute a marked lane violation.” The prosecution appealed.

On appeal, the court reversed the lower court’s decision. The court began its analysis by noting that an officer has probable cause to stop a car if the officer witnesses a traffic violation, regardless of the seriousness of the alleged violation. The court explained that allowing police to make traffic stops for violations of the traffic code promotes public safety. Thus, the court identified the question it needed to resolve as whether the defendant’s brief departure from his lane was a violation under section 4a of the traffic code, which requires motorists to stay in their lane of travel.

The court held that even a momentary crossing of the traffic lines constitutes a violation of section 4a. In so holding, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the statute prohibits only unsafe movements between lanes, and not a momentary departure. The court explained that the defendant’s interpretation would require police to engage in a spur of the moment determination whether a motorist’s brief crossing was “unsafe.” Additionally, the court noted that the defendant’s interpretation is not supported by the statutory text, which prohibits all movement between lanes (unless using a turn signal).

Have You Been Arrested after a Traffic Violation

If you have recently been arrested after the police stopped you for a traffic violation, you may be able to challenge your arrest based on the traffic stop. Attorney Patrick J. Murphy is an experienced criminal defense attorney who has extensive experience handling Massachusetts OUI cases and other motor vehicle offenses. Often, a minor traffic offense can lead to much more serious charges. Proving that the police were not justified in conducting the stop can result in evidence being suppressed. To learn more about how Attorney Murphy can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 617-367-0450 to schedule a free consultation today.