Police must always have a reason as to why they would make a traffic stop. They cannot pull you over without just cause. This is called “reasonable suspicion” and means that the police have reason to believe that you may have committed a crime. Should the police have reasonable suspicion, they may pull you over and ask to see your license and registration. They may also frisk you for weapons, but at this point, they do not have the right to search your car or belongings.
During this short investigation, the police officer may request to perform a field sobriety or breathalyzer test on you. While you have the right to refuse this test, there will be consequences in the form of your license being legally removed for a year. It is recommended that you refuse the Standardized Field Sobriety Test, known as the SFST, but you will not be able to refuse a breath or blood test with impunity. Simply put, SFSTs are not always accurate, but they have the possibility of affecting the outcome of your court case. SFSTs include a series of three tests, which are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, the walk-and-turn test, and the one-leg stand test. Needless to say, there are numerous reasons why you may not be able to pass these tests even if you are not driving under the influence.
In general, most traffic stops that end up in DUI charges start as little more than civil infractions related to poor driving techniques. For example, you are most likely to be stopped if you are speeding, turning from the incorrect lane, driving on the shoulder, driving too slowly or driving through a red light or stop sign. Also, police are likely to pull you over if you drive offensively by weaving through traffic or following other drivers too closely. Finally, police will have a reasonable excuse to pull you over if you are driving with expired tabs or have a burned out headlight or taillight.
While police have numerous reasons to pull you over, these will only be allowed in court if they come under the title of reasonable suspicion. The cause for the traffic stop must be written in the traffic report for a judge and jury to clearly see should you go to court. If your lawyer can prove that the traffic stop was not legal, your case has a good shot at being thrown out of court without any other evidence being presented.
Remember that whether or not you believe that your traffic stop is lawful, it is in your best interests to remain calm and to do as the police officers request rather than to be belligerent and refuse to cooperate. If you make their traffic stop disagreeable, they may very well come up with criminal charges against you when there may have been none in the first place.
Also, keep in mind that a DUI traffic stop is different from a DUI checkpoint. At a checkpoint, officers do not need to have reasonable suspicion to pull you over even in states that generally require reasonable suspicion. This is due to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of 1990 that said that it was more important to eradicate drunk driving than it was to retain the privacy of drivers. The Supreme Court found that the searches were reasonable in this case and did not go against the 4th Amendment. However, several states still maintain independently that these sobriety checkpoints are illegal.
If you are stopped at a checkpoint or at a random traffic stop, remain calm. While you can disagree with what officers say, ensure that you do so in a respectful manner and without arguing. Be sure to show them your driver’s license and proof of registration if requested, but let the officers know if you need to reach into your glove box or purse to gather them. It is your right not to have to answer personal questions, such as where you have been or what you have been drinking.
At this point, you should also know the difference between “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause.” Most of the time when you are pulled over, the police officer is doing it because he has a reasonable suspicion that something illegal may be happening. He does not have actual facts yet to support him in his claim. Probable cause is more powerful than reasonable suspicion because it gives police officers the ability to arrest you. Probable cause occurs when the police can delineate actual things you have done wrong when pulling you over. It should be supported by facts rather than by guesswork as reasonable suspicion is. Remember that without probable cause, the police cannot legally arrest you. However, if, during a DUI stop, the police officer discovers facts or items that give him or her justification for probable cause, he will be able to arrest you.
The key to a successful DUI stop is to ensure that you do not give the officers any reason to charge you with extra criminal activity. Should this happen, you will be hard pressed to get out of the charges with a clean record intact. Even if you make it out without a DUI charge, you may be charged with obstruction of justice.
In many cases, a talented attorney will be able to prove the illegality of your charge in court if there was no reasonable cause for the traffic stop. In fact, this is often the easiest way to get a DUI case thrown out of court. If your lawyer can prove that you were pulled over illegally, then all of the evidence collected by police after that, even if it was positive for DUI, will be inadmissible in court. Of course, you will need a talented lawyer to get you through this tangled mess, but with the right legal counsel, you should see your charges dropped immediately in court.