In King, the Court of Appeals, by contrast, held that a "momentary drift" across a lane divider after unrequired stopping at a yield sign was insufficient for reasonable suspicion. King, 1995 Va. App. LEXIS at *3-4.Summary of this case from Commonwealth v. Augustus
Record No. 1219-93-4
Decided: January 3, 1995
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF FAUQUIER COUNTY, William Shore Robertson, Judge
Roger A. Inger for appellant.
Marla Lynn Graff, Assistant Attorney General (James S. Gilmore, III, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.
Present: Judges Barrow, Koontz and Fitzpatrick
Pursuant to Code Sec. 17-116.010 this opinion is not designated for publication.
Glenn Ellis King (King) appeals his conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol pursuant to Code Sec. 18.2-266. King asserts that the traffic stop which led to his arrest was not grounded in a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and that the trial court erred in failing to suppress the evidence derived therefrom. We agree and reverse King's conviction.
At trial, Deputy Crummett of the Fauquier County Sheriff's Department observed King's vehicle, travelling on US Route 211, approach the intersection of US Route 29 and US Route 211 at approximately 12:30 a.m. on February 4, 1993. At that intersection, King entered the right turn yield/merge lane and stopped for two seconds although there was no traffic observable on US Route 29. King then proceeded into the curb lane of US Route 29, which is four lanes at the intersection, drifting over a few feet into the adjoining lane and then returning to the curb lane. After following King for one-half mile, Crummett observed King properly execute a left turn onto Keith Street. Crummett then stopped King and, after further investigation, charged King with driving under the influence of alcohol. Crummett testified he based the stop solely on the two-second stop at the yield sign and the momentary drift across the lane divider.
The stop of a vehicle on a highway and detention of the driver constitutes a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, even though the stop is limited and the detention brief. Castaneda v. Commonwealth, 7 Va. App. 574, 579, 376 S.E.2d 82, 84-85 (1989) (en banc); see also Lowe v. Commonwealth, 230 Va. 346, 349, 337 S.E.2d 273, 275 (1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1084 (1986). The mere fact of a seizure does not render incompetent any evidence obtained as a result. Rather, courts must judge the reasonableness of the seizure in light of the particular circumstances. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21 (1968).
Courts must apply objective standards in determining whether the requisite degree of suspicion exists to support the seizure of a vehicle, taking into account that law enforcement officers may be able to perceive and articulate meaning in certain conduct which would appear wholly innocent to the untrained observer. United States v. Gooding, 695 F.2d 78, 82 (4th Cir. 1982). Our attention, however, must remain focused on the objective reasonableness of the stop. Id.
We hold that the two actions observed by the deputy were insufficient to give rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity even when observed by a trained law enforcement officer. A momentary stop at a yield sign is neither illegal nor indicative of illegal behavior. Rather, it is a prudent and reasonable act of a cautious driver. Similarly, a momentary drift across a lane divider between lanes traveling in the same direction when merging from an intersection does not suggest criminal activity.
Although these acts called King's vehicle to the officer's attention, we hold that without more, the officer did not have a sufficient basis to assert a reasonable, articulable suspicion that King was committing the unlawful act of driving under the influence of intoxicants. Even if the officer were to have testified that from experience or specialized training he was able to recognize when a vehicle is being operated by an impaired driver, and the record before us contains no such assertion, we simply do not believe that the two indicated acts were sufficient to justify the seizure of King and his vehicle.
Accordingly, we hold that the trial court erred in failing to suppress the evidence obtained as the result of an unlawful seizure. For these reasons, we reverse King's conviction and dismiss the charge against him.
Reversed and dismissed.