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Reasonable Suspicion of DWI – North Carolina

Post by: Raleigh DWI attorney Matthew Golden

There has been some drastic changes to case law recently that concern the initial stop of an impaired driver in North Carolina. Contrary to popular belief, a police officer cannot pull over your vehicle without a legal basis. That legal basis for DWI cases is either  1.) the driver charged with DWI has committed a motor vehicle traffic offense that is cited in Chapter 20 of the North Carolina General Statutes or 2.) the officer making the stop has a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the driver is impaired by either alcohol or drugs.

What is reasonable and articulable suspicion (RAS) you ask? Well, before the court case of State v. Otto, __ N.C. __ (2012) (Hudson, J.), the case law in North Carolina suggested that mere weaving within one’s lane without anything more was not sufficient to meet this standard. Now, there were cases before Otto where a court found RAS where there was weaving within one’s own lane plus the driver was traveling at 10 mph under the speed limit at 1:40 am in the morning. (See State v. Brown, 2010 WL 3860440 (N.C. Ct. App. Oct. 5, 2010). However, in Otto, the driver was observed weaving within her lane for only 3/4 of a mile, was doing the speed limit, it was only 10:30 pm at night, and there wasn’t any other signs of impaired driving. The N.C. Supreme Court reversed the N.C. Court of Appeals decision and found that a pattern of continual weaving, without anything more, was sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion of impaired driving.

There is no doubt in my mind that this case will be appealed to a higher court, as it contradicts so many other cases in North Carolina as well as other jurisdictions throughout the country. It essentially suggests that a driver who does not drive in a completely straight line is subject to being pulled over by the police at any time. While reasonable suspicion might be an easier burden to meet for the time being, there are plenty other hurdles the State will have to meet to prove a driver is guilty of DWI.

Wake County DWI attorney Matthew Golden will ensure that the State not only has reasonable suspicion to pull over your vehicle, but that they also meet the more difficult test of establishing probable cause for an arrest of DWI, as well as fully complying with the statutes and constitutions of North Carolina and the United States throughout the whole arrest and booking process.

Call Wake County DWI attorney Matthew Golden today for a free consultation over the phone or at his downtown Raleigh office.