Supreme Court Reverses Lower Courts, Call DWI Stop Reasonable

A recent ruling from the Louisiana Supreme Court changed the landscape of DWI arrests in the state, for it eliminated a four-item mandatory checklist created by the Louisiana Court of Appeal four years earlier in cases where an out-of-jurisdiction police officer stops a driver. The new ruling declared that the Constitution does not require checklists and that the proper analysis focused upon reasonableness under the “totality of the circumstances.”

The appeal involved the arrest of John Emmitt Gates. Gates was arrested by Brian Bell, a police officer in Haughton, a small town near Shreveport. Bell was on duty and within the Haughton city limits when a couple in a SUV told him about a suspected drunk driver. Bell spotted the vehicle the couple described just outside the city limits. Due to the driver’s extremely erratic driving, Bell stopped the truck.

Bell detained the driver but did not question or arrest him. When a Bossier Parish deputy arrived, the deputy performed a field sobriety test and arrested Gates for DWI. The driver argued successfully at trial for the suppression of evidence related to the stop, asserting that the stop was unconstitutional because Bell did not get permission from the Bossier authorities to stop Gates before doing so.

The court of appeal agreed with the trial judge, but the Louisiana Supreme Court sided with the state. The SUV passengers’ act of stopping alongside Bell’s vehicle and reporting a suspicious driver was enough to give Bell a sufficient degree of reasonable suspicion to believe a crime was occurring and to undertake additional investigation. Bell’s actions and observations after that point, taken as a whole, were adequate to make his stop of Gates constitutional.

In reaching this ruling, the court rejected the previous Louisiana Court of Appeal decision, upon which the lower court had relied in Gates’ case, State v. Williams. That case created a four-item checklist, including the permission requirement. The four criteria the Williams court listed were “relevant considerations to be evaluated” in determining a stop’s overall reasonableness, but making them into a mandatory checklist that every officer must satisfy in every situation created an excessively high hurdle. The Louisiana Constitution imposes no requirement that officers secure permission from local law enforcement every time in order to satisfy the reasonableness requirement. Rather, the Constitution required only that the officer act reasonably under the “totality of the circumstances.”

Bell had reasonable suspicion a crime was ongoing, based upon the tip from the SUV passengers. He visually located the suspect’s vehicle just outside his jurisdiction and observed Gates driving erratically and dangerously. He stopped Gates in order to protect the public at large, including Gates himself. Once he stopped the driver, he merely detained the driver and waited for a local deputy to arrive. In the court’s opinion, given these facts, not only was was the stop reasonable, but Bell could have arrested the driver himself without running afoul of the Constitution.

If you’ve been accused of DWI, it is important to retain counsel who understands and is up-to-date on DWI law and knows how to use those laws to present the best defense possible. Contact to the Louisiana DWI attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm right away to discuss how our attorneys can help you with your DWI case.

For your confidential consultation contact us online or phone Cardone at 504-522-3333.

More Blog Posts:

Facebook Users Employ Social Media Website to Avoid Sobriety Checkpoints, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, May 6, 2014
Baton Rouge’s DWI Checkpoints Violated State Law, District Court Rules, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, March 13, 2014

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