In Vermont, a police officer can stop a car based merely on a reasonable and articulable suspicion of wrongdoing. This is a far lower standard then probable cause (which is needed to arrest or search) or reasonable certainty, but has to be more than “an unparticularized hunch or guess”.
Over time, we have seen a gradual yet determined erosion of the line between “reasonable and articulable suspicion” and “an unsubstantiated hunch or guess” when a police officer makes a motor vehicle stop. For example, did you know that the time of day that you are driving, as well as where you are driving, enhances the possibility that you will see blue lights in your rear view mirror? Sadly, anyone driving in Vermont after 10:00 p.m. is practically inviting a blue light stop and a request to provide a roadside breath test. This is because officers know that most DUI’s occur at night so that a stop is more likely to result in a DUI arrest.
What follows is a laundry list of creative police excuses for stopping a vehicle in Vermont (based upon cases I have defended or that my criminal defense colleagues have litigated):
- Tinted windows (even though the car passed inspection with them);
- Failure to use turn signal when leaving a rotary;
- Failure to use turn signal when leaving a parking lot, even if there were no cars present and during the early hours of the morning;
- Failure to use turn signal within 100 feet of coming to a stop before making a turn;
- Failure to use a turn signal when changing lanes, turning onto another road or entering a driveway or parking lot;
- Activating turn signal after coming to a complete stop at an intersection;
- Keeping turn signal on when lost and failing to turn or exit road in same direction as turn signal;
- After pulling completely off the road, standing outside the car and using one’s cell phone;
- Stopping at night in a parking lot of a business which was recently burglarized or stopping in a “high drug area”;
- Driving in an unfamiliar area and “looking lost”;
- Rear license plate fully or partially covered by snow, or hanging at an angle, or partially but not completely lit;
- Accessory (fog or third brake) lights out or covered by snow;
- Spinning of tires (even on snow);
- Drifting back and forth within one’s lane, whether touching either the center line or the fog line, or both;
- Touching the fog or center line, even once;
- Coming to a rolling but not a complete stop at a stop sign or stop light;
- Failure to pull over when police or emergency vehicle approaching in either direction;
- Failure to dim high beam headlights, even just before oncoming vehicle passes in opposite direction;
- Stopping beyond a stop line or parking in a handicapped parking spot, even if only temporarily with running lights on;
- Not turning on headlights within one half hour of dusk;
- Driving a car registered to someone whose license is under suspension (even if yours isn’t);
- Hanging objects from a rear view mirror even if not blocking the windshield.
Tragically most of the above examples involved drivers who could not see there was a policeman nearby or assumed that one was not. This is an unwise way to drive, particularly at night. Always assume that a cop is behind you, and drive accordingly. Always use your turn signal, even if no other cars are around and particularly at night. Don’t speed and avoid touching either the center line or the fog line. As the above list makes obvious, cops are looking to pull people over on the flimsiest of violations of the Motor Vehicle Laws. Be forewarned!
Another tip: While obviously you should not drive while intoxicated, or even buzzed, sometimes you find yourself in that position. If you can’t get a designated driver, be sure to check your running lights, and your rear license plate for visibility before driving away to make sure you don’t give anyone a reason to stop you. Of course, you should always drive within the law.