Contrary to what many people are led to believe, a police officer needs a valid reason to pull you over and conduct a DUI investigation. If a police officer pulls over a motorist without having a valid reason and subsequently makes an arrest, the initial stop may be challenged by an experienced criminal defense attorney and potentially declared illegal by the court. Such was the outcome in a recent case in front of a Nebraska Appeals Court. The court overturned a DUI conviction based on the defense argument that the arresting officer did not have a valid reason to stop the defendant in the first place.
Back in September of 2013, Adam Woldt, a 26 year old Wisner, Nebraska man, was apparently flagged over by a police officer. The police officer already had a truck stopped on the side of the roadway and was conducting a potential vandalism investigation. Woldt was unable to go around the scene because the truck and the officer’s car door were blocking the lane. Woldt attempted to back up in an effort to take another route around the scene of the investigation; however, the officer held up his hand and flagged Woldt over to the side of the road.
According to the officer’s testimony, his purpose in flagging Woldt over was to ask him if he saw the truck driver run over traffic cones on a nearby street; however, upon talking to Woldt the officer testified that he smelled alcohol. The officer then began a DUI investigation, including asking Woldt to perform field sobriety tests, which he failed. Woldt was ultimately arrested and submitted to a chemical test where his blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, level was measured at 0.148 percent. The legal limit in Nebraska is 0.08 percent.
Woldt chose to take his case to trial during which his attorney focused on the initial stop, arguing that it was
a “suspicionless, warrantless search” because the officer had no valid reason for the stop. As such, any evidence gathered as a result of the stop should be inadmissible because the officer had no suspicion of criminal activity when he stopped Woldt. Therefore, his constitutional right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure had been violated. Woldt was convicted, nonetheless, of a first time DUI and sentenced to six months of probation and a $500 fine. He then appealed that conviction to the Nebraska Appeals Court.
Upon review, the Nebraska Appeals Court agreed with Woldt’s contention that the stop was illegal, though it did note that “the degree of intrusion on Woldt’s liberty interest was not great.” Ultimately, however, the Court overturned the conviction, saying that the officer’s desire to question Woldt and his concern for public safety didn’t outweigh Woldt’s constitutional right.