DWI Lawyer Says: "Peeling Out" Isn’t Necessarily Reasonable Suspicion

When a police officer suspects that a driver is intoxicated, he may only stop the suspect under very specific circumstances within the confines of the US Constitution. If an arresting officer conducts an unlawful stop, an unlawful arrest, or an unlawful search or seizure, any evidence against the suspect collected during the arrest may be suppressed at trial. This can and often does lead to the charges getting dropped.

In the recent appellate case of State v. Johnson, the defendant, James L Johnson moved to suppress the evidence against him when he was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI). That night, the defendant pulled up next to an officer in a left-turn lane, with his music blaring. When the traffic light signaled ‘go,’ the defendant accelerated abrubtly, screeching his tires and fishtailing his truck as he turned into the left lane in front of him. The officer pulled over the driver, ordered him out of the truck which led to his arrest, despite having not broken any traffic laws.

From District Court to State Appeals court

When the case was heard in District Court, the judge decided in favor of the defendant on the issue of the stop. The State appealed and the case was moved on to Superior Court wherein the presiding judge upheld the stop and remanded the case. In District Court, the defendant entered a guilty plea and then appealed to Superior Court, where he again moved to suppress. Unfortunately, his motion was denied. He again entered a guilty plea and appealed to the Appellate Court, where it was unanimously ruled that the circumstances of the case did not provide enough evidence to support the arresting officers claim of reasonable suspicion.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration listed 24 different driver actions that constitute reasonable suspicion and the N.C. Court of Appeals recognizes all of these as possible signs of a DWI. These driver actions are as follows:

  • Weaving
  • Weaving across lane lines
  • Straddling a lane line
  • Drifting
  • Swerving
  • Almost striking a vehicle or other object
  • Turning with a wide radius or drifting during a curve
  • Stopping problems (too far, too short, too jerky)
  • Accelerating for no reason
  • Varying speed
  • Slow speed
  • Driving without headlights at night
  • Failure to signal a turn or lane change or signaling inconsistently with actions
  • Driving in opposing lanes or the wrong way on a one-way street
  • Slow response to traffic signals
  • Slow or failure to respond to officer’s signals
  • Stopping in the lane for no apparent reason
  • Following too closely
  • Improper or unsafe lane change
  • Illegal or improper turn (too fast, jerky, sharp, etc.)
  • Driving on other than the designated roadway
  • Stopping inappropriately in response to an officer
  • Inappropriate or unusual behavior
  • Appearing to be impaired

Raleigh DUI attorney to the rescue

If you have been charged with DWI and you believe the circumstances surrounding your arrest do not merit the charge, consult with a DWI lawyer with Kurtz & Blum, PLLC for the best advice on your particular situation.


  • Bad Driving Doesn’t Necessarily Violate Chapter 20, NCCriminalLaw.sog.unc.edu
  • DUIs: What Are the Visual Cues?, DrivingLaws.org