Leming v. Texas and what it means.
The highest criminal tribunal in Texas recently handed down an opinion which significantly reduces the burden on police officers when effectuating a traffic stop in some DWI cases. In a highly disputed plurality opinion, The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that an officer can pull over a motorist for not maintaining a single line of traffic alone, whether the motorist is driving in a safe manner or not. This overruled a prior opinion from various Texas Courts of Appeal.
At issue is the interpretation of Texas Transportation Code Sec. 545.060 which reads in pertinent part:
- An operator on a roadway divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic:
- shall drive as nearly as practical entirely within a single line; and
- may not move from the lane unless that movement can be made safely.
Prior opinions from Texas intermediate Courts of Appeal and construed the statute to require that the officer must see the vehicle fail to maintain a single lane of traffic and deem that movement to be unsafe.
Writing for the plurality, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Justice Kevin Yeary, a Republican from San Antonio announced the court’s decision: “Thus it is an offense to change marked lane’s when it is unsafe to do so; but it is also an independent offense to fail to remain within a marked lane of traffic so long as it remains practical to do so, regardless of whether the deviation from the marked lane is, under the particular circumstances, unsafe.”
This ruling significantly decreases the burden on prosecutors seeking to establish the legality of a police stop in a DWI case, and effectively broadens the power of the police to stop and detain motorists. Writing in dissent, Justice Michael Keasler, a Republican from Dallas, stated: “The court’s holding today only increases the likelihood of fishing expeditions the Fourth Amendment protects against.”
The court’s ruling in Leming can only be seen as an expansion of police power and a further erosion of the civil liberties contained in the Fourth Amendment.
#DWI #texaslaw #criminalappeals