In two unanimous decisions, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Feb. 11 that police have the right to stop motorists if their vehicles cross roadway markings, even if briefly, essentially making it easier to arrest and convict people driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The decisions, authored by Justice Jeffrey Bivens, arose from two DUI arrests – one in Williamson County and one in Knox County – that came after police stopped motorists for crossing roadway markings.
The drivers in both cases argued that the evidence that they were under the influence was obtained illegally because officers never had a right to stop their vehicles in the first place and should be thrown out.
In the Williamson County case, a woman was pulled over on Interstate 65 South around 3 a.m. after a police officer saw her vehicle twice touch and once cross the right fog line with both right tires of her vehicle. The Knox County case involved a driver who had been stopped after his vehicle crossed a double-yellow line a couple of times on a curvy, two-lane road.
The court looked at two separate Tennessee laws and found that police had the right to stop both motorists.
One of the opinions noted that the justices recognized the law on driving on the right side of the roadway “criminalizes a common driving infraction and provides police officers with a great deal of discretion in determining whether to initiate a traffic stop.” Nevertheless, the justices said the legislature had chosen to criminalize the common driving infraction of crossing the center lane of traffic except in limited circumstances.