As you drove home after enjoying dinner or happy hour with friends or family, you felt as though you were careful to follow all traffic regulations since you had a couple of drinks. Even though you didn't believe you were intoxicated, you figured it was best to take the extra care.
Despite your efforts, you saw flashing lights in your rearview mirror and pulled to the side of the road. After a couple of routine questions, the officer asked if you had anything to drink. After submitting to a breath test and taking field sobriety tests (if you agreed to submit to one or both), you found yourself taking a ride to the police station or local jail and facing DUI charges.
Why did the officer stop you?
As part of the investigation into a DUI charge, the intentions of the police officer bear consideration. In order to legally make a traffic stop, a police officer must establish "reasonable suspicion." Common reasons why an officer may suspect impairment include the observation of driving behaviors such as the following:
- Driving too slowly
- Straddling the centerline
- Braking frequently
- Making an illegal turn
- Drifting between lanes
- Driving erratically
- Stopping in the roadway for no apparent reason
- Nearly hitting objects on the side of the road
- Nearly hitting other moving or stopped vehicles
Police officers use these and other actions as reasonable suspicion that you may be impaired. Of course, an officer may stop you because of a broken tail light and then suspect impairment based on other observations. An officer may not need reasonable suspicion after an accident or after finding a driver asleep in a parked car.
Don't mistake reasonable suspicion with probable cause
Reasonable suspicion is not enough for an arrest. It only allows an officer to conduct a limited investigation and only stop you temporarily. In order to make an arrest, an officer must establish "probable cause," which is a higher standard of proof requiring evidence that suggests the commission of a crime most likely occurred. Reasonable suspicion only requires the belief that one may have been committed.
This is what officers use breath tests and field sobriety tests to establish. When combining the results of these tests with other observations, right or wrong, the officer may arrest a driver.
Did the officer have reasonable suspicion?
Only after conducting an investigation into the circumstances surrounding your case can that question be answered. In order to ensure that you explored every avenue, that you understand your rights and that you understand your legal options, you may want to make use of the legal resources in your Pennsylvania area.