Last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a Virginia DUI case, requiring the court to consider the defendant’s claim that police illegally seized her outside her home. However, the court held that law enforcement was justified in approaching the defendant while she was in her car that was parked in her driveway.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, a man standing with a group of people saw a car without its lights on making erratic movements. Once the car passed, the man hopped into his truck to follow the driver, thinking they may be intoxicated. The defendant, who was driving the car, stopped several times, but sped off when the man approached her vehicle. Throughout this “chase,” the defendant clipped a telephone pole with her car before pulling into her driveway.
The man called police from inside his car, which was parked across the street from the defendant’s home. He watched the defendant inside her car until police arrived, and then confirmed that police were investigating the right person.
Police approached the defendant while she was still inside her car. Officers noted that she had bloodshot eyes, and smelled like alcohol. The defendant asked to go inside her home, and the police officer would not allow her to do so. Eventually, the officer conducted field sobriety tests before arresting the defendant for drunk driving.
The defendant argued that police illegally seized her without a warrant while she was on her own property. Specifically, the defendant argued that, for purposes of the motion to suppress, her being on her driveway was the functional equivalent of being inside her home, which required police to have a warrant.
Initially, the court agreed with the defendant that any warrantless search of a residence is presumptively invalid. The court also agreed that, for the purposes of a motion to suppress, the driveway is included in the protected area. However, the court then discussed the exigency exception, which allows an officer to enter a suspect’s home if the circumstances justify such an entrance to protect others or preserve evidence. Thus, the court held that the officer’s entrance onto the defendant’s driveway was not a violation of the defendant’s rights.
The court then looked to the officer’s conduct while on the defendant’s property, also finding that it was permissible. The court explained that the witness provided the police officer with probable cause that the woman was engaged in criminal activity, specifically, drunk driving. The court noted that the witness was not anonymous, and verified that police were investigating the correct person. Thus, the court affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion.
Have you Been Arrested or a Virginia Drunk Driving Offense?
If you have recently been arrested for drunk driving in Virginia, reach out to the dedicated criminal defense attorneys at the Robinson Law, PLLC. At our law firm, we aggressively represent clients who face serious DUI charges, helping them defend against the accusations in any way possible. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, give us a call today at (703) 844-3746.