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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > July 2012 > City of Wickliffe v. Petway — Eleventh District Court of Appeals (Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake, Portage,

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City of Wickliffe v. Petway — Eleventh District Court of Appeals (Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake, Portage, and Trumbull counties), June 4, 2012


Question: If a peace officer witnesses a vehicle weaving slightly within its own lane of traffic, does this observation provide probable cause or reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop?

Quick answer: No, more evidence of either a traffic violation or erratic driving is needed to justify a stop.

Facts: A police officer stopped defendant Derrick Petway’s van after observing the van twice veer left onto the lane’s marked line within a 15-second period. The officer eventually arrested Petway for OVI and other misdemeanor crimes, but Petway moved to suppress the evidence of OVI based on an unconstitutional stop.

Why this case is important: The court found that the officer lacked probable cause to stop the van because the officer’s cruiser camera didn’t show that Petway committed a marked lane violation. The video showed only the van’s left tires briefly driving on the line dividing the lanes, but the van’s tires never passed into the neighboring lane. There was no reasonable suspicion for the stop, either, because Petway’s weaving was not substantial and couldn’t reasonably be characterized as jerky, unsafe, or erratic.

Keep in mind: To make a constitutional traffic stop, you must have probable cause that a traffic offense has occurred or some indication of erratic driving to warrant an investigative stop based on reasonable suspicion. If there is only modest or minimal weaving in one’s lane alone, that is not enough to allow you to stop the vehicle.

Click here to read the entire opinion.