In order to stop your car, a police officer is required to have “probable cause,” which is information to suggest that you’ve broken the law. There are two situations that require probable cause. The officer must first have probable cause to pull you over, and then probable cause to make an arrest. Here are five things to understand about probable cause and how it comes into play in DWI cases.
1. An Officer Must Have Probable Cause to Pull You Over
Probable cause just means that enough reliable information exists to support a reasonable belief that someone has perpetrated a offense—in this situation, driving a car while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It doesn’t take much for a police officer to demonstrate probable cause for a DWI. For instance, if a police officer saw you swerving, driving erratically or running a red light, this would be enough probable cause to pull you over and request that you take field sobriety tests or a breathalyzer test.
2. An Accident Can Be Considered Probable Cause
If a car accident occurs and a police officer suspects that you were driving while intoxicated and caused the accident, this is enough probable cause to make an arrest.
3. If You Are Pulled Over, You Can Fight Probable Cause
If law enforcement really had no probable cause to pull you over, you can bring a motion to suppress evidence obtained after the stop, which can lead to the whole case being thrown out of court. But beware—when it’s your word against the policeman’s, it is more difficult for the court to side with you, especially in DWI cases.
4. Aggressive Behavior Adds to Probable Cause
Probable cause for being pulled over is determined by the police officer’s first observations of your driving behavior. Remember that after you’ve been pulled over, the policeman will continue to observe you to determine if enough probable cause exists for an arrest. For instance, if the police officer pulled you over for running a red light, but then noticed the odor of alcohol coming from your automobile, that may supply enough probable cause to charge you with a DUI and make an arrest.
After pulling you over, the officer will consider whether you acted suspiciously while sitting in your automobile, whether you have trouble getting your license and registration, or whether there’s any signs of alcohol or drug use. Every move you make will be carefully monitored for later use against you — if an arrest is made.
5. A Routine Traffic Stop Usually Does Not Give Probable Cause for a Search or Arrest In and Of Itself
While police officers can pull you over for basic traffic violations, police officers can not use traffic stops as a “pretext” to start investigations. For instance, unless the authorities have probable cause to believe that a vehicle or its luggage compartment contains drugs or weapons, law enforcement cannot search a car that’s been pulled over for a routine traffic infraction. Likewise, unless police officers have probable cause to believe that a motorist or passenger has committed a serious offense, the policemen can not use the stop as a pretext to interrogate an auto’s occupants about other potential offenses.
Contact Schwartz & Krysinski, LLP today for a consultation if you were arrested for a DWI at (718) 643-9333.