Judging Traffic (March 2019)
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New Best Practices for a State Judicial Outreach Liaison Program guide is now available

The new Best Practices for a State Judicial Outreach Liaison Program guide is now available. This document is written in two parts. Part 1 is for the State Highway Safety Office and includes information on the scope and purpose of the State Judicial Outreach Liaison program. Part 2 is focused on launching the program and includes information helpful to both the State Highway Safety Office and the new State Judicial Outreach Liaison.

Iowa: Positive initial lab test alone insufficient for conviction

The Iowa Supreme Court rule on March 8 that an initial lab report that "indicate[s] the possible presence" of controlled substances in a driver's urine is not enough to sustain a conviction for operating a motor vehicle with any amount of a controlled substance present in the person (Iowa Code Chapter 321J.2(1)(c)). The court held in Iowa vs. Meyers that a confirmatory test is required for a conviction. The court relied in several places on drug testing in the workforce ("If confirmatory testing is a part of workplace drug testing, it would be just as important, if not more important, in the criminal justice system.") In a concurring opinion several justices noted that while the initial report was not sufficient to uphold a conviction under 321J.2(1)(c), it might have been sufficient for a conviction under 321J.2(1)(a) making it a crime to operate a motor vehicle "while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or other drug or a combination of such substances."

Minnesota: Daughter's DWI arrest in innocent mother's car should not result in seizure of vehicle

The Minnesota Supreme Court held that the owner of a vehicle cannot have her car seized after her daughter uses it to drive drunk without a hearing. In Olson v. One 1999 Lexus, a majority of the court held the state's law allowing for civil forfeiture of a vehicle used in a drunk driving case failed to provide due process to non-driver owners. Specifically, the statute provides the mother was unable to obtain a hearing on the seizure of her vehicle until the conclusion of the criminal proceeding against the daughter, which took 18 months. Due process, the majority found, required a hearing much sooner than that. Two justices dissented, arguing that the mother had failed to show she had exhausted all available remedies such as asking the county attorney directly for the return of the vehicle.

North Dakota: Tip from one officer to another (to another) that "white HHR" is driving erratically is not enough alone to stop vehicle

The North Dakota Supreme Court set aside a suspension of driving privileges in a case where an off-duty officer provided a tip to an on-duty officer that a vaguely-described vehicle was driving erratically. The off-duty officer in Lies vs. North Dakota Department of Transportation had relayed only a general description of a "white HHR" without indicating a license plate number, driver description, ongoing location information. The on-duty Highway Patrol officer then relayed the "white HHR" description to yet another on-duty member of the Highway Patrol who stopped Lies' vehicle and arrested him for driving under the influence. The administrative hearing officer concluded that the arresting officer had reasonable suspicion since sightings of white HHRs were not a common occurrence and a lower court agreed. The state supreme court, however, noted that neither party presented evidence as to the commonality of white HHRs. Moroever, the vague desciption of "white HHR" is not enough for a positive vehicle identification sufficient to justify the detention of a motorist.

Ohio: Mistake of law still results in lawful traffic stop

The Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District ruled on March 7 that where an officer stops a vehicle under the mistaken belief a law had been violated, the stop remains lawful since the officer reasonably believed a violation had occurred. The officer in State vs. Spellacy made a traffic stop when he believed Spellacy was flashing his lights into oncoming traffic in violation of the state's headlight statute. Upon making the traffic stop, Spellacy was charged with operating a vehicle while under the influence and for the headlight violation. The trial court granted a motion to suppress the charges given that the officer had made a mistake of law with respect to the cause for the stop, namely the headlight violation. The Court of Appeals overturned the lower court, relying in part on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Heien v. North Carolina that if a mistake of law was reasonable, then there was a reasonable suspicion justifying a traffic stop.

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