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When Can an Officer Pull You Over for a DUI?

One of the fastest ways for the prosecution to lose a case is for them to be stripped of their evidence by it being rendered inadmissible. One of the surefire ways for a Santa Rosa DUI attorney to render evidence as inadmissible in a driving under the influence (DUI) case is to prove that the stop was unlawful. But this is when matters begin to get complicated. When is a stop unlawful? What reasons must a police officer have when pulling you over on suspicion of a DUI?

Probable Cause in DUI Cases

Everyone has the right in this country to go where they please and when they please, assuming they are not violating any trespassing laws in the process. For this reason, the police are not allowed to stop anyone “at random”. Instead, they need to have “probable cause”, or a reasonable belief that stopping you will either deter you from committing a crime or help them prevent one.

In a DUI case, an officer will be looking for a vehicle that is swerving, braking sporadically, or otherwise showing signs that the driver is not entirely in control. If it is a weekend night when the police know most DUI arrests occur in their county, they will have even more probable cause to pull someone over and try to figure out if they are intoxicated behind the wheel. What about sobriety checkpoints and traffic stops where everyone needs to pull over and talk to the police? So long as there was some public notification announcing the checkpoint’s location ahead of time – usually posted on the local police department’s website and in a local newspaper – it is permitted. Other than those situations, if you are not driving erratically, the police cannot pull you over. Right?

Taillights and Cellphones

In Heien v. North Carolina, a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court due to its controversy, a driver was pulled over because his vehicle had one dysfunctional taillight, and he was subsequently arrested for having cocaine in the car. Vehicle equipment failures – such as missing headlights or taillights – are valid reasons for a police officer to pull someone over. The issue was that in North Carolina, it is legal to drive with just one taillight. So was the stop unconstitutional? Not according to the Supreme Court, which held that the officer had valid reason to believe the law stated both taillights must be functional, and therefore had valid reason to conduct the stop and search of the vehicle. When this case result is extrapolated to other scenarios, it can become quite problematic for motorists everywhere.

Imagine that a police officer pulls you over because he thought he saw you using your cellphone while driving. Once stopped, he smells alcohol on your breath and you are arrested for a DUI, despite breaking no laws and exhibiting no reckless driving behaviors. Even if you weren’t holding a cellphone at any point during your drive, the officer could argue that he “could have sworn” he saw it in your hand, and his probable cause to stop you would be considered valid.

Standing Up for Your Rights is More Important Than Ever

If you are pulled over and arrested for a DUI, you must be willing to stand up for your rights and challenge the charges. If it can be found that the police did not have valid reason to stop you, or that they intentionally looked for an otherwise unnoticeable problem to do so, it may be possible to have the evidence suppressed and your case dismissed. Call our Santa Rosa DUI attorneys today at 707.418.5352 to schedule your free case evaluation with the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C.