Pennsylvania State Superior Court recently ruled that it takes more than a hunch by the police officer to justify a traffic stop. In this case the stop led to a drunk driving conviction followed by prison.
Defendant was in a parking lot at a local restaurant. The officer said he saw the Defendant in a car with a woman and they switched seats which the officer thought was unusual behavior.
The officer went on to state that he saw the top half of a red, white and blue can between the two front seats sitting in a cup holder. The officer thought this can contained beer, but he could not tell whether or not it was open. It is illegal to drive with an open can of beer in the vehicle, but not with an unopened can.
The officer stopped the Defendant at the exit of the lot and pulled him over as he drove by. It should be noted here that it is only illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol on a public highway or traffic-way. Private lots have a different outcome.
The Superior Court concluded that the officer did not have enough evidence to conclude that there was an open beer can in the Defendant’s vehicle. The judge wrote the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the Defendant’s car and therefore the conviction was overturned.