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Is state law enforcement crossing the line on traffic stops?

While news reports often make it seem like every driver on the road is dangerous, the reality is that good drivers outnumber bad drivers by a considerable margin. Yet, no matter how conscientious most drivers may be, there is virtually no chance that they’ve ever not crossed a road line.

Indeed, something as simple as misjudging a turn, over-correcting the wheel or reaching for the radio can result in a vehicle temporarily leaving its designated lane. While most drivers likely don’t think twice about this, simply making the necessary adjustments, it would seem that many law enforcement officials in Tennessee are viewing it as something more: an opportunity for a traffic stop.

In fact, the Tennessee Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments in two consolidated DUI cases later this month examining the number of times a driver has to cross a road line before law enforcement officials can pull them over for a traffic violation.

The fact pattern of the two cases is largely the same in that they both involved motorists stopped after officers observed them briefly crossing road lines only once. Both motorists were subsequently arrested and convicted on drunk driving charges.

The cases, which originated in Knox and Williamson counties, saw both the trial court and the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals hold that crossing the road line once does indeed provide sufficient basis for a traffic stop.       

While you might think that the law would be fairly clear on something like this, this isn’t the case. In fact, there is actually a dearth of well-defined rules regarding the crossing of road lines, as well as a conflicting body of case law, stemming from the 2000 decision by the state Supreme Court in State v. Binette, holding that crossing a road line once or twice does not rise to the level of a traffic violation.

Needless to say, this case is being closely monitored by legal experts, some of which are already predicting the justices will reverse course and, by doing so, greatly expand police powers not just in relation to drunk driving, but all areas.

“I think it opens up the door that [law enforcement] can make any kind of traffic stop any time they want to,” said one criminal defense. “You’re going to have more traffic stops, police stopping more people solely for hitting that line.”

Stay tuned for updates on this important story …

If you’ve been arrested for driving under the influence, it’s imperative to consider speaking with an experienced legal professional who can uncover any violations of your rights and fight to protect your future.

State Bar of Georgia
TBA | Tennessee Bar Association
CBA | Chattanooga Bar Association
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