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Weaving in the Road: Probable Cause for a New Jersey DWI Stop

Any time the police stop a motorist, they must have probable cause to do so.  When it comes to drunk driving, this cause is often based on the driver weaving in the road, resulting in one of the tickets being  for "failure to maintain lane" under New Jersey statute 39:4-88(b). But is this sufficient cause?

Well, in the 2008 case of State v. Woodruff, the judge ruled that in order to constitute probable cause, it is not necessary for the State to demonstrate that weaving in a lane would affect the safety of other drivers. In fact, two instances of observed weaving within a lane constituted sufficient reasonable suspicion for the officer to pull you over.

Can the Probable Cause Be Challenged?

Questions still remain, however, in any case where the police are relying on this for probable cause:

  • Are two instances enough under all circumstances?
  • In what period of time must the two instances occur?
  • Can they be two isolated instances of weaving or must they be part of a continuous movement by the vehicle?

These questions, asked in the context of the specific facts of the case, might lead a judge to determine that there was no probable cause for the stop.

Is This the Standard Throughout the State?

In addition, although not binding on judges throughout the state because the ruling was not made by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, or the New Jersey State Supreme Court, this case does give some indication of how judges might respond to a defendant's challenge to the State's probable cause when it is based on this statute.

However, one should also bear in mind that other courts might rule differently under a different set of facts, and an appellate court may also go in a different direction.

In the meantime, although weaving is not proof of intoxication (it could be due to fatigue of the driver or other cause besides impairment), the stop that results from this cause could lead to other motor vehicle violations.  For that reason, New Jersey motorists should be aware that a police stop under these circumstances may well be upheld by the courts.

So What Do I Do?

If you have been charged with drunk driving in southern New Jersey, please feel free to call me at 856-432-4113 or contact me through this site to schedule a free consultation in my Woodbury office.

If you are looking for more information on New Jersey's drunk driving law, then download my free book, How Much Trouble Am I In? A Guide to New Jersey Drunk Driving Law.

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Steven J. Richardson
Bankruptcy, Collections, Student Loan, DUI and Traffic Court attorney in Woodbury, NJ.