Ever wondered how law enforcement initiates a DUI stop? Can they randomly select people who drive out of bar parking lots? Can they pull you over because you had a guilty look? Can they pull you over on a hunch that you’re drunk because it’s just after closing time at the local bars when they have nothing better to do?
Probable Cause Required for Pulling You Over
Law enforcement needs to have a good reason to pull you over for drunk driving, or any traffic offense for that matter. This is called probable cause.
Probable cause is necessary for law enforcement to conduct a DUI investigation. “Investigation" refers to field sobriety tests, the preliminary alcohol screening (PAS test), and questions related to drunk driving.
For example, a police officer might see a car weaving in and out of its lane, and this could be sufficient enough to pull the driver over on suspicion of DUI. Meaning, the weaving gave the officer “probable cause” to pull the driver over.
Finding Evidence After a Traffic Stop
What if the officer notices evidence of DUI after pulling you over for another traffic violation? For example, what if he pulls you over for running a red light, but when he speaks to you, you’re slurring your words and you have a strong odor of alcohol on your breath?
In this situation, the officer can legally start a DUI investigation and, if he discovers enough evidence, he can arrest you for drunk driving. Even still, police must have a probable cause that you've committed a crime in order to make a legitimate traffic stop.
What Evidence of DUI Do Police Look for?
Once the officer conducts a traffic stop, he will need additional evidence of DUI. Common forms of probable cause for a DUI investigation are:
- The odor of alcohol on the driver’s breath or in the vehicle
- Slurred speech
- The driver openly admits to drinking alcohol
- An open contain or alcohol in the car
- Bloodshot, watery eyes
- The driver is fumbling for their keys
- The driver cannot stand up straight
- The driver passes out or vomits
- The driver fails to follow the officer’s simple commands
If the officer notices one or more of these factors, he may use it to justify a DUI investigation. The investigation can include field sobriety testing, breath testing, questioning, and more. The officer must find further evidence of DUI to conduct an arrest. This might include:
- Failing a field sobriety test
- Admitting that you are drunk
- Failing a breath test (the PAS test) taken roadside
- Refusing to cooperate with police
What If I Was Pulled Over Without Probable Cause?
If an officer cannot establish probable cause, such as reckless driving, then the amount of evidence that they'll be able to enter will be limited. Arrests made for DUI without sufficient evidence of intoxication at the scene can result in evidence obtained later, such as the results of a blood alcohol test, being thrown out in court.
Essentially, the prosecution must have a considerable case at each of the three stages of a DUI charge: stop, detention, and arrests. A lack of sufficient evidence at each stage can result in the suppression of further evidence from the following stages.
Protect Your Rights with an Attorney
If you were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you need an experienced lawyer, especially if you believe that the police did not have probable cause to stop you. Our Orange County DUI defense attorneys have the skill, aggression, and experience to help you avoid the consequences of a conviction.
Call us today to learn more about your legal rights and the defense options available!