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OVI Dismissed Based on Mistake of Law by Officer: Failure to Stop “At” Stop Sign Includes Stopping “On” the Stop Line

In every OVI case, it is critical to examine the reason for the initial stop.  The police are required to have “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that you have committed a traffic stop or committed some other crime in order to pull you over.  If they think you committed a traffic violation – but were wrong on the law – the stop could be thrown out.

In this case, the driver was pulled over for a stop sign violation.  The statute at issue said he had to stop “at” the stop line.  He stopped on top of the stop line (his front wheels were over it and back wheels behind it).  He was not required to stop “before” the line.  Thus, the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to pull him over and OVI charge was dismissed.

Stopping “On” the Stop Line at a Stop Sign Did Not Merit a Traffic Stop by Police

Here, around 2:00 AM, an officer pulled the defendant over for failure to stop his car before the “clearly marked solid stop bar.”   Upon approaching the car, the officer said he detected a “strong odor” of alcohol, observed “red, bloodshot, watery, and glossy” eyes and that the defendant was slurring his speech.  The defendant submitted to field sobriety tests and was cited for OVI and for operation of a vehicle at a stop sign. 

In court, the defendant filed a motion to suppress arguing that the officer lacked any reasonable suspicion to pull him over.  The “operation of a vehicle at a stop sign” law at issue states:

 “[e]xcept when directed to proceed by a law enforcement officer, every driver of a vehicle  approaching a stop sign shall stop 

at

 a clearly marked stop line, but if none before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or, if none, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of the approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway before entering it.”

At the hearing, the defendant argued that he did in fact stop “at” the stop line — his car was on top of the stop line.   His car didn’t go into the street or create a hazard for oncoming traffic.  The court agreed.

The officer pulled him over for failure to stop “

before” 

the stop line, which is not illegal under the statute. Because the driver stopped “at” the stop line (even if he was on top of it and is front wheels were in front of the line), he did not violate the stop sign law in this case.  Nothing in the law said which part of the car had to stop at the stop line.  In fact, “at” in the dictionary means “in, on or near” – which is exactly what he did here.  He was on the stop line when he was pulled over.  (State v. Drushall, 2014-Ohio-3088).

If you have been charged with an OVI and have any questions about the legality of the initial traffic stop, talk to our OVI attorneys at (614) 361-2804.