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An illegal traffic stop can get your DWI case dismissed -

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An illegal traffic stop can get your DWI case dismissed

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An Illegal Traffic Stop Could Be a Viable Defense In Your NH DWI Trial

In order for a police officer to legally detain a motorist or require him or her to pull over while they are driving, the officer must possess “reasonable grounds” to believe that a traffic offense has been committed. After the initial traffic stop has been made, the investigation can be expanded to look for evidence of a DWI.

A police officer must be willing to testify, and to offer evidence, that reasonable grounds was created by specific observations, such as seeing a motorist weave in and out of traffic, driving below or above the specified speed limit, or demonstrating other behaviors that would cause a reasonable person to believe that the motorist was driving while under the influence of alcohol.

The most critical aspect that New Hampshire motorists must learn to understand is when a police officer is actually “seizing” them.

Whether it involves a police officer stopping by a suspect’s hospital room to question them and when the medical staff are the ones who have confined the suspect and not police or if a police officer stops to check on a motorist’s legally parked automobile that is not being driven, if the police officer does not actively place the suspect under arrest or otherwise make it nigh unto impossible for the motorist to end the questioning or leave, the police officer has not seized anything against the motorist, and anything the suspect says or does can be used as valid evidence against them in a court of law.

If a police officer does not compel a motorist to step out of their automobile or place them under arrest and read them their Miranda rights, then the motorist retains every legal right to halt the conversation, discontinue contact, or leave the scene of the traffic stop.

Defining Pretextual Traffic Stops

Pretextual stops occur when a police officer observes a motorist committing a traffic violation or other offense and uses these actions as a pretext to pull the motorist over to determine if they are in violation of New Hampshire’s DWI laws. Such stops have been deemed legally valid by the Federal constitution and the New Hampshire state constitution, so long as the police officer possessed a valid reason for pulling the motorist over.

Most often, if an experienced NH DWI attorney can prove that the actual traffic stop itself was illegal, then he or she will do so during a pre-trial motion. One method in which an experienced lawyer can question the legality of a pretextual stop is to prove that the possibility of racial profiling was a determining factor in the stop.

Minor Violations Occur When a Person Is Sober

A New Hampshire drunk driving attorney can argue that a traffic stop was not reasonable if the police officer claims that a motorist was weaving in and out of their lane, particularly if it was done in a manner that is consistent with the actions of a sober individual. New Hampshire’s state statutes regarding lane control recognize that motorists are not always capable of remaining perfectly within their own lanes. Consequently, automobiles should be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane.”

An increasing number of states have heard legal cases in which a motorist drifted slightly, either across a yellow line or across fog lines, and these courts routine deemed that such actions do not constitute reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop.

Anonymous Tips Can Lead to a DWI Arrest

A police officer must possess reasonable suspicion in order to pull a vehicle over, but such suspicion can arise in the form of an anonymous tip from another NH citizen who observed suspicious behaviors. In these instances, the police officer does not have to witness the suspicious behaviors in person. Instead, they can elect to pull a motorist over on the basis of the anonymous report. The only requirements of the anonymous report is that it must possess all of the elements of reasonable suspicion.

A skilled NH drunk driving attorney will fight to suppress such evidence, but what must be understood is that New Hampshire’s Supreme Court has established specific guidelines for anonymous tippers who must be capable of identifying the vehicle’s model, make, plate number, and so forth so that the police officer can be certain a vehicle they are pulling over is the one identified by the anonymous tipper.

In the 2004 case of the State v. Christine Sousa, the NH Supreme Court decided that the ensuing criteria must be met for an anonymous report to meet the requirements for reasonable suspicion:

“We hold the following factors, viewed in light of the totality of the circumstances, are important when evaluating whether an anonymous tip gives rise to reasonable suspicion. First, whether there is a “sufficient quantity of information” such as the vehicle's make, model, license plate number, location and bearing, and “similar innocent details” so that the officer may be certain that the vehicle stopped is the one the tipster identified. Wheat, 278 F.3d at 731. Second, the time interval between the police receiving the tip and the police locating the suspect vehicle. Id. Third, whether the tip is based upon contemporaneous eyewitness observations. Id. at 734; see Blake, 146 N.H. at 4. Fourth, whether the tip   is sufficiently detailed to permit the reasonable inference that the tipster has actually witnessed an ongoing motor vehicle offense.”

Officer Detention Lengths Do Have Limits

After a police officer requires for a motorist to stop, there is a limited amount of time in which he or she has to determine if there is a legal basis for their suspicion. The questions a police officer poses ”must be carefully tailored to its underlying justification … [and] must be temporary and last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop.”

If a police officer stops a motorist for one offense, such as speeding, and starts to question the motorist about another possible suspicion, then they must be able to prove that:

1)      The line of questioning is reasonably related to the traffic stop’s initial justification

2)      The police officer possess articulable, reasonable that would justify the line of questions

3)      In light of the present circumstances, the questioning changed the fundamental nature of the detention or impermissibly prolonged it.

If you believe that you were illegally pulled over by a police officer or are facing DWI charges in the state of New Hampshire, please contact our law offices for a free evaluation of your case. It could make a significant difference.




Disclaimer: Past results do not guarantee a future outcome. Results include cases in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Attorney Dan Hynes is admitted to practice law only in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. This website may be considered advertising. Contacting us does not create an attorney/client relationship and the information on this site is not legal advice and may be inaccurate or not applicable to your case. Each case is different.

Mailing Address: Dan Hynes PO BOX 598 Merrimack, NH 03054