VTL 1192 – NY DWI: Does a Thirty Second Delay in Turning on a Green Light Establish Probable Cause to Stop Vehicle

We have all done it and we usually don’t need the assistance of a New York criminal defense lawyer. Usually, the honk of the car behind us is a sufficient reminder that the red light has now turned green and we need to put the pedal to the ground. Maybe we were looking at the radio or maybe we were engaged in a heated conversation (not on a hand held mobile, of course). Regardless, we responded slowly to the change of the light from red to green. While this delay is often attributable to carelessness, a driver in Nassau County argued that his failure to turn on a green light did not give police probable cause to stop him and ultimately arrest him for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI / DUI) in New York. In his particular case, the question asked and ultimately answered by the court was whether or not the momentary delay in his response established probable cause for the police to stop and arrest him.

In People v. Martinez, 2010NA023365, the defendant was charged with DWI, pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1192(2) and impeding traffic, pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1181(a). It was alleged that while standing at a red light, which ultimately turned green, the defendant failed to immediately turn. Instead, he paused with significant enough time for two vehicles to go around him. The third vehicle behind the defendant was a police officer. After about thirty seconds as the light turned yellow, the defendant turned his vehicle. After following the defendant for a couple of blocks, the officer pulled him over. There was no testimony by the police officer (the prosecutor should have brought this out) about oncoming traffic, the fashion of the defendant’s driving (did he cross over the white or yellow lines?) or whether or not the defendant used his turning signal.

The court’s decision (quoted from the actual decision):

Officer Barnes was clear that within seconds of the light turning green the two cars between him and the Defendant moved around the Defendant and proceeded on their way, without any apparent difficulty. Such a momentary delay cannot provide the basis for a police stop for impeding traffic. See: Salter v. North Dakota Department of Transportation, 505 N.W.2d 111 (S. Ct. North Dakota 1993) [Applying a virtually identical statute the court found there was no reasonable and articulable basis to stop an automobile which was going 30 to 35 miles per hour in a 50 mile per hour no passing zone, with cars coming up behind him, for impeding traffic]

Once the two vehicles between the Defendant and Officer Barnes proceeded, the only vehicle left behind the Defendant was Officer Barnes himself. Officer Barnes, however, did not testify that he intended to pass the Defendant; rather, he made it clear that it was his intention to follow the Defendant. See: People v. Rotkvich, 256 Ill. App.3d 124, 628 N.E.2d 888 (Ill. App. 1st Dist.1993) [the court affirmed the suppression of evidence in a driving under the influence of alcohol prosecution where there was no reasonable or articulable suspicion for stopping the defendant’s vehicle, which was traveling between 10 and 15 miles per hour in a 35 miles per hour zone and the only cars on the road were two police cars, one of which followed the defendant and the other of which was not said to be impeded]

There is also no indication in the matter before the court “that defendant’s manner of driving resulted in a substantial danger to other motorists.” People v. Brand, 71 Ill.App.3d 698, 390 N.E.2d 65 (Ill. App. 1st Dist. 1979) [the court affirmed the granting of the defendant’s motion to suppress where the defendant drove 20 miles per hour in a 45 miles per hour zone for one-quarter mile, but there was no indication that the defendant’s slow speed either endangered other motorists or that other motorists were affected by the defendant’s conduct]

Based upon all of the foregoing, the court finds that the Defendant’s conduct, in merely waiting for the traffic light to turn yellow before making a lawful left hand turn, without interfering with the reasonable progress of the other motorists present or creating a danger of any kind to any motorist, did not provide Officer Barnes with either probable cause to believe that the Defendant had violated VTL §1181(a) or reasonable suspicion that the Defendant committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime.

Where, as here, the stop of the Defendant’s vehicle was unreasonable, any “subsequent discoveries…constitute derivative evidence obtained by an illegal seizure and therefore should [be] suppressed (citation omitted).” People v. Ingle, 36 N.Y.2d 413, 369 N.Y.S.2d 67 (1975); See also: People v. MacKenzie, 61 A.D.3d 703, 875 N.Y.S.2d 908 (2nd Dept. 2009) lv. den. 13 N.Y.3d 798, 887 N.Y.S.2d 547 (2009) [following an unreasonable stop the defendant’s statement and breathalyzer results were suppressed]

Accordingly, the Defendant’s application to suppress all evidence recovered by the police following this unreasonable stop is granted.

For further information, including an analysis of legal decisions and statutes, on New York DWI and DUI laws, please follow the highlighted link. Articles on other statutes found in the New York criminal law as well as cases in the news can be found on Saland Law PC’s New York Criminal Lawyer Blog.

The New York City DWI lawyers at Saland Law PC represent those arrested for Driving While Intoxicated in Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Rockland, New York (Manhattan), Kings (Brooklyn), Bronx and Queens Counties. The criminal defense firm was founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors.

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