Pretext Stops – Part 1: What is a “Pretext” Stop?

South King County DUI Attorney

As long as an officer stops a driver for a legitimate reason, such as erratic driving, it does not matter that the officer’s real reason for stopping the driver was to search the car for drugs or other contraband. The erratic driving is considered a “pretext” for searching the car. As an experienced South King County DUI attorney, I can tell you that courts across the country allow the police to stop and search cars for various reasons. This post will discuss two frequent grounds for stopping cars. Later posts will discuss additional grounds.

Weaving in a Lane

If a driver is weaving within a lane, an officer may have a reasonable suspicion to stop the car for DUI, particularly if the weaving continues for a significant period. One California court held that weaving for ¾ of a mile was sufficient to justify stopping the car. Other courts, however, have held that weaving within a lane did not justify stopping a car. In a Texas case, for example, an officer observed the driver for about 1½ miles and supposed he saw the car weave within a lane 2-7 times. The court held that detaining the car was not justified, especially because the officer could not state with certainty the exact number of times he saw the car weave. A South King County DUI attorney can assess the facts of your case and determine whether your driving justified the officer pulling you over.

Weaving Across Lanes

Similarly, weaving across lanes may be reasonable grounds for an officer to stop a driver for DUI. In a Kansas case, the court held that driving across the center divider three times, along with speed variations and weaving inside the lane, justified the stop. However, a Florida court held a stop was invalid when the driver drove over the right line several times, but did not enter the emergency lane and no other cars were nearby. In Maine, driving on the center divider for about 25-50 yards did not warrant a stop, particularly when there weren’t any other cars nearby.

If the facts of your case do not justify the officer pulling your over, an experienced South King County DUI attorney may be able to make a compelling argument that the officer used “weaving” as a pretext for an unconstitutional stop. If you are not currently represented by a South King County DUI attorney, please contact me to talk about your case.


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