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Is 'Swerving' Probable Cause for a DUI Stop?

Can the police initiate a traffic stop whenever they want? Not exactly. They cannot pull you over on a “hunch” that you’re drunk driving because they saw you drive away from a bar’s parking lot, nor can they pull you over because it’s 1:00 a.m. and they have nothing better to do.

To pull you over, law enforcement must have reasonable suspicion that you committed a traffic violation and or criminal offense. When looking for drunk drivers, officers watch drivers to see if they’re driving erratically. After all, officers are taught that erratic driving is a tell-tale sign of drunk driving.

Can the police pull you over on suspicion of DUI because you suddenly “swerved” or because you drifted out of your lane?

Unless an officer has reasonable suspicion, they cannot stop you (unless the stop took place at a valid DUI checkpoint), and unless an officer has probable cause, they cannot arrest you. Often, officers find other potential (non-DUI) violations to pull drivers over, such as:

  • Speeding
  • Running a red light
  • Texting while driving
  • Failure to use turn signals
  • Headlights not on (at night)
  • Failure to come to a complete stop, or a “California rolling stop”
  • Expired registration tags

Swerving alone isn't a traffic violation, and the police know that we’re all guilty of swerving on occasion. Whether we’re avoiding debris in the road, picking up something that fell near the pedals, or reading directions on our smartphone, swerving happens.

Swerving is also an indicator of drunk or drugged driving. In effect, alert officers have to consider the possibility that DUI is to blame for the erratic driving. While swerving can indicate intoxication, it is also a common result of distracted driving or tired driving, which is why swerving isn't conclusive evidence when justifying a DUI arrest.

Late Night DUI Arrests in Orange County

If the police want to pull someone over, they will likely find a reason to do so. Once the officer has you pulled over, they can look for signs of intoxication such as bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, or alcohol on your breath.

Law enforcement are "on the hunt" for intoxicated drivers, especially late at night and on weekends. They will go to great lengths to justify a traffic stop and DUI arrest, and in many cases, these arrests are unwarranted.

The Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc. defends clients by calling police procedure into question. If there was not reasonable suspicion to pull you over or probable cause to arrest you, your charges could be reduced or dismissed altogether.

If you were arrested for DUI in Orange County, contact us for a free consultation!