Safety reasons can be probable cause for a stop

In a recent appellate court decision, the court found a police officer had enough reasonable suspicion to pull over the defendant because of the totality of the circumstances he observed. Specifically, the need for medical attention as the reason for a traffic stop.

In this case, the officer observed Defendant enter his vehicle and vomit out the driver’s side window, which would have given the officer grounds to investigate whether Defendant needed medical attention. Defendant drove away immediately, and the officer then observed Defendant drive over a curb, and then take actions in what the officer suspected was an attempt to evade law enforcement.

Under the Fourth Amendment, an officer may approach a vehicle for safety reasons or to assist a motorist, or if the officer has reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, so long as in either case the officer can point to reasonable, articulable facts upon which to base his or her actions. Based on the totality of circumstances of the officer’s observations, there was reasonable suspicion to justify the officer’s traffic stop of the defendant, due to the officer’s function as a caretaker.

David R. Galen (Defendant) had appealed the trial court’s judgment entered upon his conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI). He argued the trial court erred in overruling his motion to suppress and admitting evidence obtained after a traffic stop because the officer lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion to conduct the stop. The Appellate court affirmed the Warren County trial court decision.

The case was State of Missouri v. David R. Galen. The opinion was by Judge Gary M. Gaertner, Jr., with judges J.Kurt, S. Odenwald, and Colleen Dolan, concurring.

Attorneys for Appellant were Robert A. Murray, Stephen P. Wilson, and attorneys for Respondent included Joshua D. Hawley and Shaun J. Mackelprang.

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