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Massachusetts Court Holds That Defendant’s Crossing Over Fog Line Was Sufficient to Justify Police Stop

Among the most important protections guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution is the freedom from unlawful searches and seizures. Of course, the concept of what is, or is not, an unreasonable search or seizure is subject to much interpretation.

In a Cape Cod operating under the influence (or “OUI”) case, the question of whether a search and seizure was legal often hinges on whether the arresting officer acted in accordance with the law in stopping the defendant – in other words, did he or she have probable cause for the stop?

If a reviewing court determines that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity prior to stopping the defendant, it is likely that any evidence obtained during the stop (and any search and seizure executed in accordance therewith) will be deemed inadmissible at trial.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the defendant was a man who was travelling along a two-lane highway in the early morning hours when a police officer reportedly observed him cross over the “fog line” on the right side of the road for a few seconds. The officer pulled the motorist over and, after additional observations and inquiries, charged him with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor in violation of Mass. Gen. Law ch. 90, § 24. The defendant was also charged with a marked lanes violation under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 89, § 4A (a civil motor vehicle infraction punishable by fine).

After the trial court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence gathered during what it deemed to be an unreasonable stop (and, thus, an illegal seizure), the Commonwealth filed an application for leave to prosecute an interlocutory appeal. The Massachusetts Appeals Court issued an unpublished memorandum in the defendant’s favor, from which the Commonwealth sought further review.

The Court’s Holding 

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court vacated the trial court’s order allowing the defendant’s motion to suppress and remanded the matter for further proceedings. In so holding, the court noted that the trial court judge had found that the defendant had driven out of the marked travel lanes when he crossed over the fog line. Therefore, the police officer who observed this had sufficient reason to stop the defendant for a marked lanes violation.

Although the trial judge had allowed the motion to suppress on the basis that the defendant had not violated § 4A, the reviewing court concluded that, because the circumstances (including a video recording taken from the officer’s dashboard camera) suggested that the defendant had both failed to operate his motor vehicle entirely within his lane of travel and had moved from his lane of travel without first ascertaining the safety of that movement, the defendant had violated § 4A. Thus, in the court’s opinion, the ensuing traffic stop was reasonable, and the trial court judge had erred in granting the defendant’s motion to suppress.

Talk to a Cape Cod Criminal Defense Attorney

Being accused of a crime is very upsetting. A criminal conviction, even for a misdemeanor, can have far-reaching consequences for the criminal defendant. If you have been arrested for OUI drunk driving or another crime, you need accurate, up-to-date legal advice. To schedule a consultation with an experienced Cape Cod criminal defense attorney, call The Law Offices of John C. Manoog III, at 888-262-6664.