Probable Cause and DUIs: 5 Things to Know
Wondering why you got pulled over? Here's the 411.
In order to pull you over, a police officer is required to have “probable cause” that you’ve violated the law. Here are five things to know about probable cause and DUIs (driving under the influence):
1. An officer needs probable cause to pull you over. Probable cause simply means that enough reliable information exists to support a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime—in this case, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence. It doesn’t take much for a police officer to show probable cause for a DUI. For example, police officers observed you driving as if impaired—that is, the police officer saw you swerving across the road, driving erratically or perhaps observed some other traffic violation.
2. An accident or injury can be suitable probable cause. Hopefully, the officer didn't come upon you after an accident or after you caused some form of injury to yourself or others. Evidence of such events is often the basis to a conclusion that probable cause exists for an arrest.
3. If the police pull you over with out probable cause, you can fight it. If the police truly had no probable cause to pull you over, later in your case you can bring a motion to suppress, which can result in the entire case being thrown out. But beware—when it’s your word against the officer’s—such claims usually don’t succeed, particularly in DUI cases
4. Bad behavior adds to probable cause. Probable cause is triggered by the police officer’s initial observations of your driving behavior. But keep in mind that after you have been pulled over, the officer will continue to observe, perhaps gathering probably cause for additional violations. For example, if the officer pulled you over for running a red light, but then observed the smell of alcohol coming from your car, that may provide probably cause to charge you with a DUI. After pulling you over, the officer will consider whether you act suspiciously while sitting in your car, whether you have trouble getting your registration or license, and whether there is any evidence of alcohol or drug use—typically smells emanating from your breath or, in the case of marijuana, the smoke. Every move you make will be carefully observed for possible evidence of impairment and noted for later use against you. These observations will definitely pop up in the police report, which you will likely see for the first time at your arraignment.
5. Probable cause doesn’t justify pretext stops. Even though police officers can pull you over for basic traffic offenses, police officers can't use traffic stops as a "pretext" to launch investigations. For example, unless the police have probable cause to believe that a car or its trunk contains weapons or contraband, the police can't search a car that has been pulled over for a routine traffic violation like running a stop sign. Similarly, unless police officers have probable cause to believe that a driver or passenger has committed a serious crime, the officers can't use the stop as a pretext to interrogate a car’s occupants about other possible crimes.
The links below provide more information and resources about what to do when pulled over for a DUI.