Police officers are generally able to pull over a vehicle any time they observe a vehicle commit a traffic or equipment violation. However, when an officer initiates a traffic stop, the violation they observed may not be the true reason they are effectuating the stop. In some cases, officers profile drivers, using a minor violation to conduct a traffic stop in hopes of finding something more damning. That seems to be exactly what happened in a recent New York DWI case.
According to the court’s opinion, a police officer observed a car parked in an area marked as a bus stop. The officer asked the driver to move, and the driver responded he was waiting for someone. As the officer walked back to his patrol vehicle, the man drove off. As he was driving away, the officer saw that the car’s left brake light was out. The officer pulled the driver over, and eventually arrested him for driving while intoxicated.
The defendant filed a pre-trial motion to suppress, arguing that he had two working brake lights and that the stop was unconstitutional. The defendant relied on the officer’s own testimony that, while the left brake light was out, the vehicle was equipped with a center brake light. The trial court found the defendant’s position persuasive and granted the motion. The prosecution appealed.