It is stressful to see the flashing lights of a police car in your rear-view mirror, and it is natural to have questions as you pull to the shoulder of the road. Are you in trouble? Do the police have a reason to stop you? Will the police arrest you? In these situations, the details matter. Officers must, in most cases, establish reasonable suspicion and probable cause to charge you with driving under the influence (DUI)
What is reasonable suspicion?
Reasonable suspicion is the standard required for searches or stops. While most people may think of “suspicion” as a gut feeling, officers must base their suspicion on specific facts that they can articulate to other people in order to stop a vehicle. Police can, however, stop vehicles without reasonable suspicion at a sobriety checkpoint.
For example, the police may have a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is driving under the influence if their vehicle weaves in and out of its lane, drives above the speed limit or brakes suddenly. While a driver may be sober while driving erratically or stopping suddenly, it would be reasonable for the officer to suspect drunk driving.
What is probable cause?
In order to make an arrest, officers must have more than a reasonable suspicion—they must have probable cause. Probable cause is based on evidence that indicates that you either committed a crime or were about to commit a crime. For example, while suddenly braking your vehicle would give officers reasonable suspicion that you were driving drunk, in order to charge you with driving under the influence they would need to have evidence. This could include a failed field sobriety test, slurred speech or the smell of alcohol on your breath.
However, officers do not always have reasonable suspicions to stop drivers, even if they find probable cause to arrest them. If officers stopped your vehicle without reasonable suspicion, it is important to speak to an attorney who will review the facts of your case to determine whether your rights were violated.