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When Can Motorists Be Pulled Over Due to Suspicions of Drunk Driving?

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs remains a significant issue facing the country. Most people are taught from a young age not to drink and drive because people who drive while under the influence of a certain amount of alcohol are significantly impaired. Alcohol slows reflexes, impairs decision making, and impacts focus. This presents a major danger to not only the driver but also to other people on the road.

As a result, few people would ever drive drunk intentionally. However, it is surprisingly easy to find oneself unintentionally driving over the legal limit. After all, alcohol metabolizes differently under different circumstances so someone could feel sober but actually be driving with a BAC over the legal limit. It is therefore important for everyone to understand the reasons why law enforcement officials may decide to pull a motorist over due to their suspicions that he or she may be driving drunk.

Reasonable Suspicion

While almost everyone has the potential to be stopped at a DUI checkpoint, police officers are also allowed to pull people over for a potential DUI if they have a reasonable suspicion that the driver is impaired. This gives a police officer the authority to pull over a driver and stop them for a short period of time. During this period, the officer is allowed to talk to the driver and determine if there is enough evidence of impairment to move forward with other tests such as a breathalyzer test or a field sobriety test. For example, even if the evidence in a DUI case is strong, the case could be dismissed if the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to pull someone over in the first place.

What are Examples of Reasonable Suspicion?

There are many examples of reasonable suspicion that could wind up in someone being pulled over for a DUI stop. Almost all of them involve traffic violations or potential accidents. For example, a driver might:

  • Come close to hitting another car or stationary object
  • Drive erratically
  • Make an illegal turn
  • Repeatedly crossing the center line without reason
  • Drift in and out of a lane
  • Fall asleep at a red light

People should remember that this list is far from complete and almost any error in driving could be reasonable suspicion to pull someone over.

What About Probable Cause?

Many people have also heard the term probable cause. This term is different from reasonable suspicion. While reasonable suspicion allows an officer to stop a driver and temporarily hold a driver for a short investigation, anything more than this will require probable cause. This means that the police officer has enough evidence to believe that the driver could have committed a crime. This could lead to someone's arrest. For example, a positive breathalyzer test would be probable cause that a DUI has been committed, and the police officer would have the authority to arrest the individual.

A DUI conviction is a serious issue that carries stiff penalties regardless of the severity of the infraction. For this reason, anyone who is facing a DUI charge should consider contacting an experienced attorney for assistance.

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