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10/4/2008
Ohio: Momentary Drift is Grounds for Search and Ticket
Ohio Supreme Court rules momentary drift over line at the edge of a road is valid grounds for a traffic stop and search.

Justice Thomas J. Moyer
The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled last month that a momentary drift a few inches over the white line at the edge of the road is sufficient grounds for a police officer to pull over an otherwise safe driver. The ruling upheld the conviction of Christopher Mays who had been stopped by a state trooper on Route 16, a four-lane highway near Newark, on March 26, 2006.

The state trooper claimed that he witnessed Mays' vehicle slowly put a tire a few inches over the white fog line at the edge of the road. Mays allegedly did this twice but then continued for a mile-and-a-half without showing any signs of erratic or unsafe driving. The trooper stopped Mays and arrested him for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) after Mays handed him a credit card when the trooper asked to see a driver's license.

The state supreme court, however, only considered whether the initial stop had been justified under state law and the federal constitution. A Licking County Municipal Court judge had found it absurd to think a momentary drift constituted traffic violation when no other traffic was around. For that reason, the judge ruled the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop Mays and threw out charges against against him. The state appeals court last year reversed, insisting police can stop and interrogate anyone even if no violation had been committed. The state supreme court agreed with this assessment.

"The question of whether appellant might have a possible defense to a charge of violating R.C. 4511.33 is irrelevant in our analysis of whether an officer has a reasonable and articulable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop," Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer wrote for the unanimous court. "An officer is not required to determine whether someone who has been observed committing a crime might have a legal defense to the charge.... In conclusion, a traffic stop is constitutionally valid when a law enforcement officer witnesses a motorist drift over the lane markings in violation of R.C. 4511.33, even without further evidence of erratic or unsafe driving."

A full copy of the court's ruling is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Ohio v. Mays (Supreme Court of Ohio, 9/16/2008)



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