If a law enforcement officer stops you for suspected DUI, it is important to know what is acceptable behavior during the stop and what warrants the stop. Probable cause is needed for the officer to stop you. Two examples of probable cause would be if you were weaving over the lines frequently or if you were speeding. If the officer has a legal and valid reason to stop you and ask questions about possible intoxication, a judge will honor the officer’s decision in court.
There are two exceptions to the probable cause rule. In Los Angeles, officers usually set up DUI checkpoints across the city on holidays or during other big events that many residents celebrate by drinking or using illegal drugs. Their checkpoints are legal, and the officers are free to randomly question or stop people who pass through the checkpoints. The other exception to the probable cause rule is when a police officer conducts a welfare stop. Police officers do not make welfare stops unless they have a valid reason to believe that you are in danger. For example, if you appear to be falling asleep at the wheel or if a passenger was hitting you, a police officer who observed such behaviors could stop you to conduct a welfare check.
If an officer does not have probable cause to stop you for observation, allowing such behavior to result in convictions could lead to widespread misconduct among law enforcement officials. A judge will often dismiss a DUI charge if the arresting officer cannot provide evidence that the individual was intoxicated and demonstrate that there was probable cause for the stop. In cases with felony charges against a driver, a lack of probable cause could lead to a reduced charge if the case is not completely dismissed.
To better understand what constitutes probable cause, consider a few examples. In the first example, imagine that a woman is out drinking with her friends. She only has two drinks but feels stable enough to drive home safely. On her way home, she runs a stop sign and is pulled over. The officer questions her about drinking, and she admits that she had two drinks. A breathalyzer reveals that she is over the legal limit, and the officer arrests her. In this instance, running a stop sign constituted probable cause for stopping the woman.
In another example, imagine that a man is driving perfectly. A police officer in the other lane believes that he sees the man lift a bottle to take a drink. The police officer stops him and discovers that the man has a bottle of water in his drink console next to him. He questions the man about alcohol consumption, and the man says that he has not consumed any alcohol that day. After conducting several tests, the officer decides that the man is under the influence and arrests him. In this case, the judge would likely dismiss the case since the officer did not have probable cause. He did not see the man driving erratically and did not see an open alcohol container in the vehicle.
For a final example, consider a situation where a man is driving home at night and is weaving. An officer pulls him over for his poor driving. The man is tired and is slurring his speech. He is unable to pass the balance test conducted by the police officer, and the officer arrests him for suspicion of driving under the influence. Testing shows that the man is completely sober. In this case, the DUI charge would be dismissed. However, it would be dismissed because the man was sober. The officer still had probable cause for stopping him.
If you were arrested and charged with a DUI but feel that the officer did not have probable cause to stop you, it is important to talk to a knowledgeable DUI defense attorney in Los Angeles. Free public defenders do not always comb through the details of your case to see if probable cause was evident. Hiring a private attorney could be the difference of keeping a clean record or getting a lifelong blemish on it.