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What standards can impact a drunk driving stop?

On Behalf of | Jan 2, 2024 | DUI

Police officers work to ensure road safety and part of that task involves identifying impaired drivers who shouldn’t be on the roads. One way they do this is by conducting traffic stops. Even though they’re doing their job duties, they must ensure they’re operating within the confines of the law when conducting such stops.

A police officer must have reasonable suspicion to initiate a stop for suspected drunk driving. This standard is based on observable facts that lead an officer to believe a traffic law is being violated. Signs that might provide reasonable suspicion include erratic driving, swerving or speeding.

Field sobriety tests and gathering probable cause

After initiating a stop based on reasonable suspicion, an officer may conduct field sobriety tests if they suspect the driver is intoxicated. These tests assess a driver’s physical and cognitive abilities, including tasks like standing on one leg or walking in a straight line.

Failing these tests can provide the officer with probable cause, a higher legal standard requiring substantial evidence to believe a crime has been committed. In the context of drunk driving, failure in field sobriety tests often meets the threshold for probable cause.

Chemical tests for confirmation

Officers may also employ chemical tests, such as breathalyzers or blood tests, to measure a driver’s blood alcohol content. These tests offer more concrete evidence of intoxication. Refusing these tests can lead to legal consequences if refusal is vocalized after an arrest. The results are crucial for establishing probable cause for an arrest and are commonly used as evidence in DUI cases.

Differentiating reasonable suspicion and probable cause

Understanding the difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause is essential. Reasonable suspicion allows for initiating a traffic stop and is grounded in specific, observable facts. Probable cause, which is needed for an arrest or search, is a stronger belief based on evidence that a crime has been committed.

There are many factors that can be included in a drunk driving defense strategy. Some of these include the lack of reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Seeking legal guidance promptly is generally beneficial for all defendants so they can learn the options they have and move forward based on what they feel is in their best interest.