Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Frederic “Fred” Amman III erred by suppressing the results of a Ruston man’s blood alcohol content test after the man was arrested in 2017 for driving while intoxicated, an appeal court says.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeal reversed Amman in the matter of State of Louisiana v. Zeke T. Kelpe earlier this month.
Kelpe was arrested Sept. 16, 2017 around 1:30 a.m. in Monroe after Louisiana State Trooper Dakota DeMoss observed Kelpe execute a left turn but immediately traverse into the right lane. DeMoss initiated a traffic stop, observed Kelpe’s slow movements and bloodshot eyes, and detected the smell of alcohol. Kelpe submitted a breath sample registering .176 percent blood alcohol content.
In late 2018, Kelpe filed a motion to suppress the results of the test. Amman granted the motion.
In its appeal, Fourth Judicial District Attorney Steve Tew’s office argued Amman erred because DeMoss had good reason to initiate the traffic stop: a traffic violation. The appeal court agreed.
“When an officer observes what he objectively believes is a traffic offense, the decision to stop the vehicle is reasonable, regardless of the officer’s subjective motivation,” stated the Second Circuit’s opinion.
Chief Judge Felicia Williams wrote the Jan. 15 opinion on behalf of a three-judge panel also including judges Jay McCallum and Jeff Thompson.
Kelpe defended Amman’s ruling, claiming state law was unclear on how far or how long a motorist must travel in one lane before changing lanes and that DeMoss passed several places where he could have stopped Kelpe’s vehicle before finally stopping him.
According to the Second Circuit, the validity of state law was not at issue because the defendant did not raise a constitutional challenge.
Under state law, a person executing a turn must “stay in the lane that they were already in[,] in the road prior and stay right of the center line.”
“The record reveals that Trooper DeMoss observed the defendant execute a left turn and then traversed into the right lane,” stated the Second Circuit opinion.
“As stated above, on cross-examination, the defendant admitted that he did so. Once the law enforcement officer observed the defendant committing the traffic violation, he had a reasonable basis to effect a traffic stop. Consequently, we find that Trooper DeMoss had “an objectively reasonable suspicion” that the defendant had committed a traffic offense before stopping the defendant’s vehicle.”
Amman’s ruling was reversed and the matter remanded to Amman’s court for further proceedings.