Supremes to rule on drivers crossing the line

The Tennessean reviews two cases awaiting a state Supreme Court ruling that pose the question: Just how many times do drivers have to cross road lines before police can stop them for a traffic violation?

The justices could clarify a gray area of the law where the rules are not well defined and past court decisions are all over the map. Their ruling could limit or expand police powers to make traffic stops.

As one driver’s attorney put it in a court filing, this case could “essentially give law enforcement authorities seemingly unfettered discretion to seize innocent drivers upon roadways in Tennessee.”

Both cases involve drivers who were stopped by police after crossing road lines only once and for a brief amount of time. The cases are from Williamson and Knox counties.

Each driver was charged with DUI. In each case, county judges said the single line crossing was enough for police to make the stop for not staying within a lane. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the county judges.

But other high-profile cases have been dismissed by judges who say a single line crossing was not enough to justify the stop. Those cases include the dismissal of DUI charges against former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair in 2004 and against state Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville, earlier this year.

Those rulings are based on a case known as State v. Binette, said Rob McKinney, a DUI defense lawyer in Nashville. In that 2000 case out of Chattanooga, the state Supreme Court said it was impossible to drive a car in a straight line and that touching a road line a couple of times is not a violation, McKinney said.

Note: For another take on the legal situation here, see Jamie Satterfield’s blog post, entitled Supremes enter the ring in DUI fight; the crowd goes wild.