Saturday, November 1, 2014

Can The Police Stop A Car For Driving Too Slow?

Many DUI cases begin with a traffic stop for violating the vehicle code.  In any case where the defendant asserts the police stopped him without legal cause the people have the burden of showing the warrantless seizure and search of the defendant was justified .  See People v. Williams (1999) 20 C4th 119, 83 CR2d 275; Wilder v. Superior Court (l979) 92 Cal.App.3d 90. The people have offered evidence that the initial seizure of the defendant, which lead to the unlawful search of her person and effects and subsequent arrest for DUI was justified by a violation of CVC 22400 (a) or driving too slow.

CVC 22400 (a) states:
No person shall drive upon a highway at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic unless the reduced speed is necessary for safe operation, because of a grade, or in compliance with law.

CVC 22400 (a) clearly states no person shall stop “so as to impede or block normal and reasonable movement of traffic...” implying there is no violation of CVC 22400 if there is no impediment to traffic flow. The court need only look at the plain language of the statute to see the code section is meant to prohibit conduct which impedes traffic flow. Where there is no traffic flow on a roadway, it would be impossible to violate CVC 22400 because an essential element of the illegal conduct is missing.

Looking to case law interpreting the meaning of CVC 22400(a), in Shannon v. Thomas, 57 Cal. App. 2D 187, a California appellate court with binding authority specifically refused to hold, as a matter of law, that someone pushing a car on a public road in the dead of night constituted a violation of California's minimum speed law. [The Shannon case examined CVC 549, which was the predecessor to (and substantially similar) to CVC 22400.] The court held “we are impressed that it was for the jury to determine whether appellants in pushing their automobile on the highway in the manner they did, impeded or blocked the normal and reasonable movement of traffic at three o'clock in the morning...” A factor weighing on that court's decision was the time of night and the lack of traffic at that time. This analytical approach would be favorable to the Defendant before the court today, whose conduct occurred on a desolate road with little to no traffic late at night. No other California cases directly address CVC 22400, but persuasive authority interpreting the phrase “impede or block normal reasonable movement of traffic..” can be found in our sister jurisdictions. People v. Beeney 181 Misc. 2d 201; 694 N.Y.S.2d 583; 1999 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 299, held:

...the dispositive factor when determining whether slow speed is a violation or may serve as reasonable articulable suspicion for a stop) is its effect upon other drivers. In other words, whether the slowness impedes traffic so as to pose a real danger to other motorists, as opposed to potential danger or temporary inconvenience.”

The reasoning in the Beeney adds compelling weight to the Defendant's argument that CVC 22400 simply was not and could not be violated on a roadway with no other traffic because there could not have been a impedement to other motorists if there were none there. The Beeney court looked to similar holdings from Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Michigan and Illinois.