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ACREE V. STATE – A12A2057: When Video Evidence Isn’t Enough

Acree v. State (2013) – Georgia Court of Appeals

On the night of April 19, 2008, an officer in Forsyth County pulled over William Garrett Acree for failure to maintain a lane. At a motion to suppress evidence the officer testified that before he activated the camera in his patrol car, he observed Acree cross the white fog line on the right side of his lane. The video only showed that Acree’s tire did not cross the right fog line, but only touched it. Because of this discrepancy, Acree argued that the officer did not have reason to pull him over. Acree’s motion was denied and he was found guilty of failure to maintain lane and DUI less safe. On appeal, Acree presented the same argument at his motion hearing. Primarily citing Polk v. State, 305 Ga. App. 677, 679 (700 SE2d 839) (2010), the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

The only question in this appeal is if the traffic stop was legal. In Polk, according to testimony, Polk twice crossed over the center line, weaved back to the edge of the right fog line, and broke the outermost plane of the centerline of his lane. But Polk also, reportedly, laid drags as he entered an intersection and abruptly stopped before making a wide turn. He was pulled over for failure to maintain lane and laying drags. Comparing testimony, Polk’s driving was far more erratic than Acree’s. The officer testified that Acree crossed over the right fog line of his lane, but a video of the initial stop shows that he merely grazed the line. Nevertheless, in the defense of Acree, the Court cites Polk  as precedence that “an officer’s stop of defendant was authorized where evidence showed that defendant weaved within his lane of travel,” despite Polk’s traffic offense being far more obvious than Acree’s.

Here, the issue is not the Court ruling against Acree, but rather the precedent that it sets. With Acree, an officer can claim that a defendant failed to maintain a lane, and despite video evidence questioning his or her claim, initiate what could be deemed a legal traffic stop. Considering that the majority of failure to maintain lane violations serve as a pretext for an initial DUI investigation, this ruling is cause for concern for future motions to suppress evidence based on illegal traffic stops.