Touching fog line is ‘reasonable suspicion’ for stopping vehicle, rules state appeals court

A Minnesota Appeals Court panel concluded that law enforcement is justified in stopping a vehicle for a traffic violation if its tires merely touch a fog line.

The ruling came in response to an appeal of a DWI conviction in Blue Earth County Court that resulted from the 2019 traffic stop of Francis Soucie.

Soucie’s appeal questions whether the state trooper who arrested him in August 2020 had “reasonable suspicion” for stopping his vehicle under a Minnesota statute that prohibits movement “from the lane of traffic.”

A panel of judges found that Minnesota State Trooper Vanessa Heller was justified in the traffic stop on Highway 14.  Dashboard video captured the movement of Souchie’s vehicle.  During the stop, Heller reported smelling alcohol on Soucie, who admitted he had been drinking.  A preliminary breath test put his blood alcohol content at .09.  His license was revoked as a result.

“Soucie challenged the constitutionality of the stop and asked the district court to suppress the evidence of his impairment and reinstate his driving privileges,” says the document filed by the courts.  But the district court denied Soucie’s motion, finding that when his vehicle tires touched the fog line, he violated that statute in question.

In the Court of Appeals, Soucie challenged that Heller’s stop exceeded her constitutional limited authority to seize him.  Both the United States and Minnesota prohibit unreasonable seizures.

But the appellate courts disagreed, noting in their opinion that “an officer does not violate the prohibition if she stops a vehicle to conduct an investigation based on the officer’s reasonable suspicion that the driver is engaging in criminal activity.”

“An officer who sees a driver violate even a minor traffic law has reasonable suspicion to stop the car,” the opinion document goes on to say.

The panel was clear that they reached their opinion based on the district court’s findings that “only the outside edge of Soucie’s tires momentarily contacted the inside edge of the fog line.”