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Your Rights in a DUI Arrest

The U.S. Constitution regulates a number of different aspects of our society and grants American citizens a number of rights. Among these rights is the right to protection from “unreasonable search and seizure,” or a moderate guarantee of privacy without being forced to submit to government or law enforcement unless certain circumstances are met. While most people think of searches as being patted down for drugs or having your home raided in search of an illegal weapons stash, searches can come in a number of other forms as well, including DUI cases. If you are suspected of driving under the influence, you still retain your rights to privacy, and any violations of these rights could wind up negating any cases against you. Let’s take a closer look at how your Fourth Amendment rights play a role in DUI arrests.

“Probable Cause”

The basic grounds of when a search is and is not permitted are as follows: law enforcement are not permitted to search you, your home, your car, your bag or backpack, or any other possessions or belongings you unless they either have your permission or meet a special set of circumstances. The first set is perhaps the best known: getting a search warrant, which is essentially court-ordered permission to search someone or their possessions. Second, law enforcement may conduct a search at will if they arrest someone. This is perhaps the most-used method for conducting searches during DUI cases. (There are other methods as well, but those are more rare and a topic for a different time.)

But law enforcement can’t just go around arresting everyone in order to randomly search them and hope they find evidence of a crime. In fact, that’s almost exactly what the Fourth Amendment is designed to prevent. So in order to justify an arrest, law enforcement must work to establish “probable cause,” or a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been prevented. There are many different ways this can happen, however the law becomes a lot more subjective, and it’s not uncommon for officers to make mistakes when making arrests, particularly in cases based solely on their suspicions.

Establishing Probable Cause in DUI Matters

In order to establish probable cause if a law enforcement officer suspects you of driving under the influence, they must first test you to see if you exhibit signs of intoxication. Whether you are pulled over while driving or make your way through a sobriety checkpoint, officers who suspect you may have been driving may ask you to submit to a few tests. These are known as “field sobriety tests.” They may include the one-leg stand test, the walk-and-turn test, or the horizontal gaze nystagmus, all of which are designed to be intentionally difficult for those who are intoxicated to do properly. Officers carefully watch for signs that you are intoxicated, and if they see enough of them, then they can legally and reasonably place you under arrest.

This is important because the evidence against you is not established by these field sobriety tests, but rather by the blood or breath test you are forced to take after you have been arrested. Therefore, in the case of DUI matters, you must be placed under arrest in order for law enforcement to conduct their search.

False Arrests

However, field sobriety tests are not infallible, and officers who conduct them are also not immune from mistakes. Even with nationally-established standard procedures for field sobriety tests, they are still notoriously inaccurate, even when used together. Add in a human error and there’s a large chance that law enforcement may have actually made your arrest under false pretenses given by a bad field sobriety test. Without proper probable cause, your arrest becomes unlawful, and an unlawful arrest is a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.

What happens if your rights are violated by your arrest? To put it simple, the case against you basically falls apart. Any evidence accumulated through a false arrest can be quickly suppressed in court, and without evidence showing your intoxication, even if you may have been guilty, the prosecution’s case becomes extremely hard to win.

It’s also important to note that until you are placed under arrest, you have the right to refuse to submit to field sobriety tests. If that prevents police from establishing probable cause, then shouldn’t everyone do this? Well, to be honest it doesn’t really matter. Law enforcement have other methods of establishing probable cause as well, and even though they’re less accurate, they could still legitimize your arrest. And when law enforcement eventually gathers evidence that supports your intoxication, they can also use their testimony of your refusal to submit to sobriety tests as a further admission of guilt against you. So believe it or not, that actually could work against you.

To learn more about your rights in the DUI process and find out if your arrest was lawful, contact the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C. today by dialing 707-418-5352 for a free consultation.