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Kansas Supreme Court Holds Officer Lacked Reasonable Suspicion to Stop DUI Defendant Based on “Power Braking”

A driver was convicted of unlawful exhibition of speed and misdemeanor DUI. The Kansas intermediate court reversed his convictions. The panel reasoned that the unlawful exhibition of speed statute (Kansas Annotated Statute section 8-1565) was unconstitutionally vague, and the arresting officer did not have a reasonable suspicion to stop the driver. The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals’ decision holding that the officer did not have a reasonable suspicion but vacated its holding that the statute was unconstitutionally vague because the lack of reasonable suspicion provided an alternative ground for relief.

In affirming, the Kansas Supreme Court first recounted the facts as presented to the trial court. In January 2013, the officer was stopped at a light when he noticed an SUV ahead of him. The SUV’s engine was revving, and the officer observed billowing smoke emerging from the car. He smelled burning rubber and noticed a tire smoking and spinning while the SUV remained still. He testified that the driver was “power braking,” which is typically performed to warm the tires before a drag race.

After the officer stopped the vehicle, the driver speculated that he was pulled over for burning his tires. He admitted to consuming one alcoholic beverage, seemed intoxicated, and failed field sobriety tests. A breath test revealed he was inebriated beyond what was legally permissible.

The driver was charged with misdemeanor DUI and exhibition of speed. The officer filed a motion to suppress, arguing the officer did not have a reasonable suspicion to stop him. At the subsequent hearing, the officer testified that he stopped the driver due to his “power braking,” which the driver’s attorneys argued did not demonstrate an exhibition of speed. The State responded that the driver’s power braking exhibited the vehicle’s power:  primarily, that it could accelerate or speed.

The district court denied the driver’s motion to suppress. It reasoned that the officer had a reasonable suspicion because the driver’s SUV was demonstrating it could drag race with its revving engine, squealing tires, and burning rubber.

The Kansas Supreme Court first addressed the State’s reasonable suspicion argument. The State argued the panel erred by reversing the district court’s decision denying the motion to suppress because a reasonable suspicion did not exist to support the traffic stop. The state supreme court relied on the “sound analysis” of the court of appeals.

Specifically, the state high court explained that no evidence was presented that the driver accelerated or moved his vehicle at all when the officer decided to stop the vehicle. Although the officer testified he believed the driver was preparing to drag race, the officer should have realized this concern was unwarranted once the driver was observed proceeding lawfully after the light changed. According to the officer’s testimony, the driver did not accelerate in any way that would provide a valid reason to stop the SUV.

The Kansas Supreme Court concluded that the district court’s finding that the officer had a reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant was not supported by substantial competent evidence. Since the officer lacked a reasonable suspicion to stop the driver, the district court improperly denied the motion to suppress.

Since this holding provided an alternative ground for relief, the state high court explained it did not need to decide the constitutionality of the exhibition of speed statute. The court reversed the driver’s convictions and remanded the case to the district court, instructing it to grant the motion to suppress.

If you have been charged with a DUI offense in Illinois, it is crucial to speak to an experienced Illinois DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC provides knowledgeable representation to people in Springfield and throughout Illinois. We have considerable experience defending individuals charged with DUI offenses and representing drivers with revoked licenses before the Illinois Secretary of State. To learn more, and to set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 217.525.0520.

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