State v. Brohawn

In State v. Brohawn, Del. Super., Ableman, J. (Mar. 6, 2001) , a police officer stopped a vehicle after another officer radioed him that the defendant had committed a traffic violation by making an unsafe lane change. The officer who stopped the vehicle incorrectly informed the driver that he was stopped for failing to signal during a lane change. The defendant subsequently signed a consent authorizing the search of his car, where officers discovered drugs. During his trial, the defendant contended that the search was unlawful because the initial traffic stop was invalid as a result of the officer inaccurately stating the nature of the motor vehicle violation. The Superior Court held that even though the police officer believed that he stopped the defendant's vehicle for failure to signal before changing lanes rather than driving in an unsafe manner, it was not relevant in determining whether there was reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop the vehicle. From the perspective of the officer that stopped the car there was evidence that the defendant had violated several other traffic laws. Even assuming that the defendant might ultimately prevail in defending against the traffic violation, the law does not require an officer to possess proof beyond a reasonable doubt before stopping a vehicle for a traffic offense. Id.