Monday, April 23, 2018

DWI Dismissed High Beams Violation was an Unlawful Stop

Dazzling Lights Can Be Dangerous
BUT They Must Affect Driving

People v. Langhorne is a 2018 DWI case that went up to New York's high court on appeal. Police can generally legally pull you over for a traffic violation or an equipment violation. Langhorne was pulled over for using high beams. The lower Town court found the police officer had sufficient proof to support the Dazzling Lights (high beam) VTL 375 (3) violation. When reviewed by the upper court this New York DWI .08 or more breath test case was successfully dismissed for lack of probable cause.

Dazzling Lights or Using High Beams VTL 375 (3) is Common Violation on Darkened Roads

Anyone driving country roads in Ithaca, Elmira, and Upstate New York will tell you you can't see anything. Route 13 is a narrow and dark road that goes all the way from Cortland to Elmira. There are little to no street or road lamp,s and we depend on our car's lights to make out the road. 

I can tell you first hand it's not fun. I've hit a deer. It's like hitting a wall. Anyway, you can't perpetually drive using your high beams because it can affect the other drivers coming in the opposite direction. It can blind them to seeing their road and cause an accident. But occasionally you forget to dim your lights back to normal, it happens.

The VTL 375 (3) Dazzling Statute is Simple But it Has Two Distinct Sections NOT One 


Dazzling Lights or Using High Beams Vehicle and Traffic Law §375 (3) provides, in pertinent part, that “whenever a vehicle approaching from ahead is within five hundred feet,…the headlamps,…shall be operated so that dazzling light does not interfere with the driver of the approaching vehicle, or the vehicle being approached.” Interference with the other driver is not just a visual effect.

The requirement of a tangible manifestation of interference is necessary to find probable cause for a LAWFUL vehicle stop. 

The Court continued that the offense required proof of two elements —
1. relating to the conduct of the accused and
2. the effect of such conduct on the complainant.

The conduct of the accused “which is proscribed is the operation of multibeam headlights so as to produce ‘dazzling light,’ and ‘the effect of such conduct upon the complainant’ is interference with his vision and hence with the operation of his car” People v. Meola (7 NY2d 391).

The Dazzling Lights Must Have Some Affect Upon Operation of the Other Driver

Testimony that high beams caused [a] State Trooper to squint was insufficient proof that the Trooper’s visions [sic] was hindered to the extent that it affected the operation of his vehicle, therefore the stop of defendant’s vehicle was improper (unlawful) (People v. Allen, 89 AD3d 742 [2d Dept 2011]).

With Dazzling Lights the Driving By the Law Enforcement Officer MUST Be Affected 

There must be some evidence that the officer’s operation (driving) of his vehicle was actually affected. In People v. Allen (89 AD3d 742 [2011]), a state trooper testified at a suppression hearing that, while he was on patrol in Dutchess County, the defendant’s vehicle approached him from the opposite direction with its high beams on, which “caused the State Trooper to squint his eyes as he was driving. As a result, the State Trooper turned his vehicle around, followed the defendant’s vehicle, and then pulled the defendant over” (id. at 742). After a hearing, the Dutchess County Court determined “that the defendant’s high beams hindered the State Trooper’s vision so as to provide probable cause to believe that the defendant had violated Vehicle and Traffic Law §375 (3)” (id. at 743).

NO Probable Cause Found for High Beams Without More Than Affecting the Eyes

The Appellate Division reversed the defendant’s conviction of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. The Court initially stated that “[a] police officer may lawfully stop a vehicle based upon probable cause that there has been a Vehicle and Traffic Law violation” (id. at 743), citing People v. Robinson (97 NY2d 341, 348-349 [2001]).

High Beams or Dazzling Lights VTL 375 (3) Must Affect Operation 

The Court then continued:

“We agree with the defendant’s contention that in order to constitute interference, a defendant’s use of high beams must ‘hinder or hamper the vision of [the] approaching motorist’ so as to actually have an effect upon the other driver’s operation of his or her vehicle [quoting People v. Meola, 7 NY2d at 395].

High Beams or Dazzling Must Have an Affect Upon Driving to be Lawful 

For example, in People v.Meola, the Court of Appeals found sufficient proof of interference where a State Trooper testified that the defendant’s high beams caused the officer to reduce his speed.

In this case, People v. Langhorne a DWI was dismissed after the officer merely testified that defendant’s use of high beams created a glaring, blinding condition to oncoming traffic. As the record fails to establish (the proof) that the police officer took any action (his driving) in response to defendant’s use of his vehicle’s high beams, the officer lacked probable cause for the stop of defendant’s vehicle (see People v. Allen, 89 AD3d 742; cf. People v. Yankovich, 39 Misc 3d 133[A].

Langhorne was convicted of a DWI charge VTL 1192 (2), .08 or more. This was dismissed because there