Police officers know they must have a good reason for pulling you over. This reason is known as "reasonable suspicion." If a California officer stops you and arrests you on suspicion of a drunk driving offense, the original stop probably occurred because the officer witnessed you doing something that indicated you were not in control of the vehicle or that violated traffic laws.
In other words, unless they are conducting a sobriety checkpoint, police cannot randomly pull people over to see if they have been drinking. This is important to know because without a valid legal reason for initiating a traffic stop, everything that happens during the stop comes into question. In fact, it is not unusual for a judge to throw out a DUI charge when the arresting officer did not have a reasonable suspicion that you were breaking the law.
What constitutes reasonable suspicion?
Police on patrol are always on the alert for drivers who may be a danger to others. Whether your vehicle has a mechanical defect like a brake light that isn't working, or your driving indicates something is not right, an officer will use those observations to initiate a traffic stop. Some of the common behaviors that alert officers that a driver may be impaired include the following:
- Your vehicle stops in the road for no reason.
- You make an illegal turn, such as the wrong way down a one-way street.
- You brake frequently for no apparent reason.
- Your vehicle crosses the center line, or you drive in the middle of the road.
- You swerve across lanes or narrowly miss striking other vehicles.
- You drive much slower than the posted speed limit or the flow of traffic allow.
Any of these reasons or others can give an officer a good reason to stop you, but during the traffic stop, the officer begins to gather the evidence to establish probable cause since reasonable suspicion is not enough to make an arrest. For example, the officer will engage you in conversation to see if you slur your words, if your breath smells of alcohol or if you have difficulty concentrating. Police may ask you to submit to field sobriety tests or administer a portable breath test before deciding there is enough probable cause to place you under arrest.
The traffic stop is the first place your attorney will look when building a case for your defense against DUI charges. Your legal advocate will want to know if the officer had reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop and if police violated your rights in any way.