Law enforcement officers need reasonable suspicion to pull someone over for DUI. That means they must have seen something in the driver’s behavior to suggest that they have broken the law. Unfortunately, not all police officers have valid reasons for stopping drivers. But those who don’t and pull someone over on a hunch have violated the individual’s constitutional rights.
When law enforcement officials fail to follow proper protocols for a traffic stop, the driver may have legal recourse to pursue a remedy. More specifically, the individual or their criminal defense attorney can file a motion to suppress. If the judge grants it, evidence obtained following the stop may be inadmissible in court. The prosecutor’s case is weakened, which could lead to a reduction or dismissal of charges.
If you were accused of driving under the influence, schedule a consultation with the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C. by calling (707) 418-5352 or submitting an online contact form. We serve the people of Santa Rosa and the surrounding areas.
What Do Police Officers Need to Pull You Over?
You are constitutionally protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. That means law enforcement officials can’t stop you for no reason. When it comes to pulling drivers over for DUI, officers must have reasonable suspicion.
Reasonable suspicion means that the officer had a valid, articulable reason to initiate a traffic stop. It is more than a hunch but does not necessarily mean that the officer can show that the individual was, in fact, under the influence. Instead, it means that the officer can point to concrete evidence suggesting that a crime was occurring.
To illustrate the concept of reasonable suspicion, suppose a police officer is sitting in their patrol car outside of a bar. They see a patron exit the establishment, enter their vehicle, and drive off. The officer cannot pull the driver over just because the individual left a bar and got behind the wheel. Neither of these actions is unlawful nor suggests that the person was drunk driving.
However, say the officer followed the motorist after they left the bar. While observing the vehicle in motion, they see the driver weaving between lanes. Because alcohol impairs motor skills, the driving behavior may be an indicator of intoxication. Therefore, the officer has a reason to stop the vehicle. At this point, the officer does not need to demonstrate that the driver was impaired by alcohol. They need only to show that the driver was unable to safely control their car, which is why the officer initiated the stop.
Various cues can suggest to an officer that a driver has committed a DUI violation. These include, but are not limited to:
- Weaving between lanes
- Driving slowly
- Disobeying traffic laws (e.g., running a red light)
- Braking problems
- Making wide turns
- Straddling two lanes
But it’s not only impaired driving behaviors that give reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop. Moving or equipment violations might be cause to initiate the stop, and then once the driver is pulling over, the officer might notice actions suggesting intoxication.
What Happens If the Officer Did not Have Reasonable Suspicion for a DUI Stop?
In the legal world, there exists the “fruit of the poisonous tree” principle. Under the concept, if something improper happened at any stage of a case, anything that follows may be considered tainted. Therefore, if a DUI stop was unlawful, evidence the officer gathered, such as performance on field sobriety tests or results from a breath test, may be inadmissible.
The driver or their criminal defense lawyer may file a motion to suppress. The action triggers a hearing where counsel may question the officer concerning their reasons for the DUI stop. If the judge sides with the defense, they may order that evidence gathered after the stop be excluded. That means the prosecutor would not be able to use it, giving them little or nothing with which to support their arguments.
Without sound backing for the case, the prosecutor might decide to reduce or drop the charges.
Have an Attorney Evaluate Your Case
If you were charged with a DUI, don’t lose hope, even if the other side has collected evidence against you. Factors, such as an unlawful traffic stop, can affect your case and may lead to a favorable outcome. Reach out to a criminal defense lawyer who can examine the facts and determine what defenses may be raised on your behalf.
Schedule a free consultation with the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C. in Santa Rosa by contacting us at (707) 418-5352.