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Probable cause and a DUI arrest

For a police officer to stop you for a DUI they must have probable cause or a “reasonable belief that a crime has been or is being committed.” Recently on our DUI forum a driver asked, “I did not stop at a stop sign and before I knew it I was being taken to the police station for a DUI. Is this legal?”

Sobriety Test - Skeptical

Establishing probable cause and reasonable suspicion

  Although unreasonable search and seizure is prohibited under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, it does not take much for an officer to have the right to stop your car. In fact, any traffic violation will give them that right. There are several common reasons you may be pulled over- your brake lights do not work, you are speeding, you are driving with your lights off, you failed to stop completely at a stop sign, or you did not use your turn signals. After they have stopped your car they can also start looking for evidence that you have committed other crimes. For instance, after a traffic stop it is not unusual for the officer to begin to look for other evidence that you are intoxicated so they can establish probable cause for a DUI arrest. Common signs that you may be intoxicated can include the smell of alcohol in your car, disorientation, stumbling, slurring your words, alcohol on your breath, glassy eyes, and alcohol in the car. If the officer notices any of these things, assuming they believe it establishes probable cause, they may ask you to conduct a field sobriety test.

Can I be arrested for DUI?

  If the police officer suspects you are intoxicated they will need to establish probable cause for the DUI arrest. Probable cause can be established if you fail a field sobriety test or breathalyzer test, if you confess that you are drunk, or if you fail a blood or breath test. Consider, however, that if the officer does not properly establish probable cause during the arrest you may be able to have the arrest information suppressed by requesting a suppression hearing.

What should you do after a DUI Arrest?

  If you have been stopped for a DUI it is important to understand your rights. Keep in mind, although you do have to provide your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance, you do not have to answer every question or submit to every request. The police officer may ask you a variety of questions which are designed to provide them with evidence that you are intoxicated. The first step to protecting yourself may simply be saying as little as possible. Never be rude or belligerent, but understand when the police officer is commanding you to do something versus simply making a request. For instance, you do not have to submit to a standardized field sobriety test. In fact, refusing to complete the test may be one way to limit the amount of DUI evidence the police officer has against you. Some test, however, are not voluntary. For instance, if the police officer arrests you for DUI you will be required to take a breath, blood, urine, or saliva chemical test or you will lose your driver’s license for a year.

Bottom Line:

  So back to the question asked above. If the police officer had probable cause to stop your car and probable cause to make a DUI arrest, they are allowed to legally charge you with DUI. Whether or not the evidence will stand up in court, however, is another question. Recent articles: How long does a state have to charge me with DUI?