The word out of Fairfax, Virginia today was positive for former FAA Chief Randy Babbitt, reports The Associated Press. The judge in Babbit's case, Judge Ian O'Flaherty, tossed the case before the prosecution even had the chance to present evidence of intoxication.
Why was Randy Babbitt so lucky? The judge ruled that the stop was unconstitutional and based on an officer's hunch. A video showed Babbitt making a proper left turn prior to being pulled over.
Babbitt was stopped after allegedly driving on the wrong side of the road. His BAC was measured, after multiple attempts, at 0.08. Witnesses from a dinner party that he had left earlier in the night stated that Babbitt only had two and a half or three glasses of wine, and showed no evidence of intoxication.
The legal reason behind the case being tossed ties back to the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure. Officers must have some articulable reason, supported by facts, for stopping a vehicle. They cannot stop vehicles on a mere hunch.
The obvious exception that springs to mind are DUI checkpoints, in which everyone is stopped, regardless of suspicion or reason. Certain states have found the checkpoints to violate their state constitutions, yet existing law states that they do pass Federal constitutional muster.
Had the video of the stop not existed, Babbitt may have also had grounds to fight his DUI on the basis of the procedure used for BAC testing. According to his attorney, the first BAC reading was 0.07, and only after subsequent retesting was the reading able to reach 0.08. His attorney argued that officers are not allowed to keep testing until they get a number that they like.
This, dear reader, is the benefit of a good attorney. Not only was Babbitt’s attorney able to locate the video and get the case dismissed on lack of reasonable suspicion of a crime in progress, but he had a backup plan as well. Obviously, not all cases have two blatant police mistakes, but the attorney in this case still deserves a pat on the back.
- Find a Philadelphia DUI Attorney (FindLaw)
- Pennsylvania DUI Laws (FindLaw’s Learn About the Law)
- Cop-Blocked: No Reasonable Suspicion for St. Thomas Traffic Stop (FindLaw’s 3rd Circuit Blog)
- Ex-FAA Chief’s DWI Charge Doesn’t Fly in Court (FindLaw’s Blotter)