Jerky Driving Leads to Montana DUI

State v. Matson, 2010 MT 162N – Noncite Opinion

In order to stop a vehicle, police officers must have a particularized suspicion that the driver has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense. In State v. Matson, the Montana Supreme Court addressed whether an officer had sufficient cause to form a particularized suspicion. Melvin Matson was observed by an officer exiting Gruber Excavating’s storage yard in Clancy in a lurching manner – like someone unfamiliar with a clutch. The officer stopped Matson “to make sure the driver was not involved in any criminal activity on the property.” As a result of the stop, Matson was placed under arrest for DUI.

Under a challenge from Matson’s Montana DUI attorney, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the officer witnessed sufficient evidence to justify a stop. Specifically:

  • Unusual jerky driving;
  • Gruber Excavating yard was closed for the night;
  • The yard contained materials that had been stolen recently at other locations; and
  • The officer knew Matson was not a Gruber employee.

Given the totality of these circumstances, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the officer could form the particularized suspicion necessary to justify the stop. Because of that, the evidence obtained after that proving that Matson was Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs was admissible.

State v. Matson is a non-cite opinion, meaning that lawyers cannot use it as precedent when making arguments to a court. Nevertheless, it provides a good look at how courts would view a certain type of evidence.

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