Court Rejects Defendant’s Motion to Suppress Based on Brake-Light Violation

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.

On appeal, the prosecution argued that the center-mounted brake light did not satisfy the statutory requirements, and that the stop was legal. The prosecution cited New York Vehicle and Traffic Law section 375(2)(a)(3), which requires vehicles to have “at least two lighted lamps on the rear, one on each side, which lamps shall display a red light visible from the rear for a distance of at least one thousand feet.” The appellate court agreed, reversing the trial court’s decision to grant the defendant’s motion.

The court explained that, when a police officer has probable cause to believe that a driver committed a traffic violation, it doesn’t matter what the officer’s true intent was in effectuating the stop. In other words, if a driver commits a traffic violation, an officer can pull them over for any reason whatsoever.

Here, the court determined that the officer’s belief that the defendant’s vehicle was not compliant due to the malfunctioning brake light was reasonable, and provided him with justification to stop the defendant. Thus, if the officer’s primary motivation in stopping the defendant was because he was disrespectful or seemingly indicated his refusal to move his car, it didn’t matter to the appellate court.

Have You Been Arrested for a New York DWI Offense?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a New York DWI offense, don’t give up hope; you have options. At the Law Office of Mark A. Siesel, we aggressively represent clients facing all types of New York drunk driving offenses, including those based on questionable traffic stops. We understand the stress that a pending criminal case has on your life, and want to take as much of the load off of you as we can. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, give us a call at (914) 428-7386, or you can reach us through our online form.

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