Based on our conversations with several criminal defense lawyers in Lincoln, Nebraska, it appears that the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office regularly pulls out-of-state vehicles over for following too closely.
Nebraska Revised Statute §60-6, 140 provides that the driver of a motor vehicle should not follow a motor vehicle more closely than is “reasonable and prudent.” Unfortunately, the statute does not provide a definition for “reasonable and prudent” in the context of following another vehicle.
The courts have attempted to define “reasonable and prudent” through case law. In one case, half a second behind another vehicle was following too closely. In another, less than one car length in the rain at 70 miles per hour was too close. In yet another, the same could be said for less than one second behind a semi-trailer at 55 miles per hour in a construction zone.
During cross examination on many motions to suppress in state and federal courts, Lancaster county deputies have argued that a “reasonable and prudent” following distance is three seconds. They claim this three-second rule was set by the NHTSA and is included in a question on Nebraska’s driving test (this is the test one takes to obtain a driver’s license).
However, Nebraska Revised Statute §60-6, 140 (2, 3, 4, and 5) provides guidance in this regard. For instance, subsection (2) provides that the safe following distance for a vehicle towing a trailer, semi-trailer, or other vehicle is someplace between one car length or 100 feet following another towed vehicle. However, the standard continues to be vague. Applying the three-second rule on the interstate where most vehicles are traveling between 75 and 80 miles per hour can be difficult, as vehicles are rarely more than 100 feet or three seconds apart.
Do you feel like you’ve been profiled? The Nebraska Supreme Court says, “so what?”
If there is a valid reason for the traffic stop, it doesn’t matter why law enforcement became interested in your vehicle.
However, a driver stopped for following too closely can challenge the traffic stop by arguing that the stop was unlawful. Law enforcement bears the burden of establishing probable cause that a traffic violation had been committed. Often it appears that out-of-state vehicles are being profiled, as they are often pulled over despite obeying speed limits and traffic laws. Following too closely is an extremely subjective traffic violation.
Vehicle Searches Caused by Following Too Closely Violations
In many instances, cars stopped for following too closely are searched and law enforcement finds large amounts of cash, marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, or other narcotics.
While the detention of the motorist as well as the search of the vehicle can be challenged, the first place to look is always the stop of the vehicle. If the traffic stop is unlawful, all evidence obtained pursuant to the traffic stop must be suppressed or thrown out of court. For example, if the evidence of a traffic stop is 100 pounds of marijuana, that 100 pounds of marijuana cannot be considered by the court in determining whether the person is guilty of the crime of possession of or trafficking marijuana.
Fighting Following Too Closely
Because the standard is “reasonable and prudent,” law enforcement often stops vehicles when the driver is acting “reasonable and prudent,” but law enforcement just didn’t feel the same way. For example, if a car is following a semi-trailer using an engine brake, this will cause the semi to brake without the driver of the passenger car seeing the brake lights. This could very quickly cause a situation of following too closely. Furthermore, if a semi pulls into a passenger vehicle driver’s lane abruptly, the driver will be following too closely until it is reasonably safe to slow down. This is not a traffic violation, because a reasonable and prudent person would not slam on their brakes in the middle of an interstate because they have been cut off by a semi.
Furthermore, when law enforcement causes a traffic violation, it is not a valid violation. For example, if a person in a passenger car is travelling behind a semi and a police vehicle pulls up behind that vehicle very closely and boxes him in, it could be said that law enforcement caused the following too closely violation. If law enforcement causes a traffic violation, there is not valid probable cause to pull the driver over.
If you have been stopped for following too closely in Nebraska, the stop may have been illegal. If it is, then all evidence obtained pursuant to the unlawful stop must be suppressed or kept out of court.
The criminal defense attorneys at Berry Law Firm have been fighting interstate drug stops and cash seizures cases for decades. If you have been unlawfully stopped by law enforcement, contact Berry Law Firm.