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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > February 2013 > State v. Miller, Fifth District Court of Appeals, Dec. 26, 2012

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State v. Miller, Fifth District Court of Appeals, Dec. 26, 2012

Question: Can a peace officer make a traffic stop if the officer hears the suspect revving his car engine at a stop light and then believes the car is speeding based on a visual estimation?
Quick Answer: No, these are not specific, articulable facts that criminal activity is afoot.

Facts: While responding to another call, two police officers heard someone revving a car engine while waiting at a stop light a block away. The officers believed the driver revved the engine for two seconds. One of the officers walked into the roadway as the car drove toward him. The officer visually estimated that the car was traveling slightly over the speed limit, so he signaled for the car to pull over. When the officer approached the vehicle, the car’s driver, Anita Miller, told the officer she didn’t have a license with her. At that point, the second officer walked over to speak with Miller, and based on the interaction with that officer, Miller was arrested for OVI. She filed a motion to suppress based on no reasonable suspicion for the stop.
Why this case is important: The court suppressed the evidence of OVI because revving the engine of a vehicle by itself isn’t “suspicious activity” that would justify stopping the vehicle. And because Ohio law prohibits officers from charging a suspect for low-level speeding based only on a visual estimation of the suspect’s speed, officers may not use their estimations to make a traffic stop.
Keep in mind: In most cases, visual speed estimation is no more than a hunch that criminal activity may be occurring. Even though you may think something is “off” with a driver’s behavior, such as revving the engine and appearing to drive slightly above the speed limit, these behaviors don’t give you reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle.  However, these peculiar behaviors should flag you to take notice of the car and perhaps further investigate to get the reasonable suspicion needed for a lawful traffic stop.

Visit the Fifth District Court of Appeals website to view the entire opinion.