Judge: Officer didn't have 'sufficient basis' to stop McNair for DUI

Updated: July 22, 2004, 6:05 PM ET
Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Prosecutors seeking a DUI conviction against Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair received a blow Thursday when a judge ruled the arresting officer didn't have "sufficient basis" to pull him over.

Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Cheryl Blackburn granted McNair's request to suppress all evidence relating to the May 2003 stop, saying officer Shawn Taylor's observations did not provide "specific and articulable facts that (the) defendant was driving under the influence."

"The court does not condone any defendant driving a vehicle with a (blood alcohol content) of .18 percent, but this court is compelled to follow constitutional standards and there was not a sufficient basis to justify stopping (the) defendant," Blackburn wrote.

McNair was arrested after an officer noticed him driving his sport utility vehicle in downtown Nashville. His blood alcohol content registered at 0.18 percent, almost twice the 0.10 level then used to define driving under the influence, according to a police report. The level has since been lowered to 0.08 percent.

McNair also faces a weapons possession charge for the 9 mm handgun Taylor found in his vehicle. While he had a permit for the gun, state law forbids an intoxicated person from carrying a loaded weapon.

But the gun, blood alcohol test and all other evidence collected during the stop won't be admissible thanks to Blackburn's ruling, said Roger May, McNair's attorney.

"If it's a bad stop, all the evidence is suppressed," he said.

In her order, Blackburn referenced a videotape taken from Taylor's patrol car that showed McNair's Lincoln Navigator touching the yellow line several times, but not crossing over until McNair turned into a gas station.

"Tennessee courts have held that neither drifting within a lane nor merely touching the dividing lane is a sufficient basis to stop a vehicle," Blackburn wrote.

Earlier this month, Assistant District Attorney Dumaka Shabazz said that if Blackburn granted McNair's motion, it likely would result in the case being dismissed.

"If the stop is deemed to be illegal then everything (would be thrown out)," he said then.

May said he spoke with McNair about Blackburn's order and says his client is "very grateful for the decision.

"He understands it's not final, but he's very grateful the court decided the way it did," he said.

The state has 10 days to appeal the court's decision. Blackburn set an Aug. 6 hearing to determine whether prosecutors will exercise that option.

If they don't, Thursday's order becomes final, and the case will be dismissed, May said.

A call to Shabazz seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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