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The role of reasonable suspicion in drunk driving stops

Throughout the holidays, people typically go to gatherings that involve alcohol. However, drivers need to ensure they only operate a vehicle if they are sober because police officers are much more likely to be watching for signs of drunk driving during the entire holiday season.

Anytime a police officer has a reasonable suspicion that a driver of a vehicle is impaired due to drugs or alcohol, they can pull the vehicle over and try to determine what’s going on. It’s important to understand that a “reasonable suspicion” isn’t the same as probable cause for an arrest. It’s a much lower standard because an officer need only have reason to believe that a driver might be guilty of a crime to make a limited inquiry into the situation.

While there are many things that might lead the officer to pull a vehicle over, there are some that are fairly common. These include:

  • Making an illegal turn
  • Speeding or driving too slowly
  • Driving erratically
  • Stopping without cause
  • Straddling the center line
  • Drifting between lanes
  • Almost hitting objects beside the road
  • Failing to stop at traffic control signals

If you are pulled over, the officer will try to determine whether you are impaired through a short investigation. This might include talking to you, asking you to do a field sobriety test, or requesting a chemical test. Any part of that investigation could yield the probable cause the officer needs in order to arrest you for drunk driving.

You do have rights during the traffic stop, as well as following your arrest. These include invoking your constitutional right to have an attorney present for questioning and opting to remain silent. It’s generally wisest to make use of them in order to minimize the evidence that the police are able to obtain against you.

If you’ve been arrested for drunk driving, an experienced criminal defense attorney can protect your rights and help you obtain fair treatment under the law.