In a previous post, we discussed how police officers need probable cause to make a DUI arrest. But what lawful requirements must they meet to pull someone over in the first place?
Law enforcement needs to establish “reasonable suspicion” to make a traffic stop and detain a suspected drunk driver. An officer has reasonable suspicion when the present circumstances or facts indicate a crime is being, has been, or will be committed.
This legal concept exits to ensure the police prevent crimes from happening or stops them from continuing. Although reasonable suspicion is a lesser standard compared to probable cause, officers need to have more than a gut feeling or hunch.
Instead, officers look for the following signs that a driver is under the influence:
- Committing traffic violations such as making illegal turns, failing to obey traffic signals and signs, driving in the dark without the headlights on.
- Driving noticeably faster or slower than the posted speed limit or other motorists.
- Frequently braking or stopping in the middle of the road without a valid reason.
- Nearly missing other vehicles, pedestrians, or roadside objects.
- Erratic driving such as drifting to one side of the road, swerving, or dangerously weaving through traffic.
For instance, a police officer notices a car drifting between lanes at slow speeds and narrowly missing another vehicle. Based on the situation and backed by knowledge, training, and experience, the officer has reasonable suspicion that the driver may be driving while impaired and can make a traffic stop.
Remember, law enforcement cannot search a vehicle or arrest someone until an officer has probable cause. The main difference between the two is that reasonable suspicion exists if a reasonable police officer might suspect a crime, while probable cause exists if any reasonable person might suspect one.
If an officer fails to properly establish probable cause, any evidence gathered to establish probable cause and make an arrest is inadmissible in court. That is why having an experienced criminal defense attorney investigate your case and find any weaknesses in the prosecution's case may greatly benefit your case.