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Reasonable suspicion: A critical requirement of drunk driving stops

On Behalf of | Apr 22, 2024 | DUI

Police officers must ensure that the roads under their jurisdiction are as safe as possible. This means watching for signs that anything is amiss. One specific behavior they have to be vigilant about is drunk driving.

In order to get drunk drivers off the roads, police officers have to watch for signs that any particular motorist is impaired. But, in order to conduct a lawful traffic stop for suspected drunk driving, officers must have reasonable suspicion that a particular driver is impaired before they can pull them over.

What is reasonable suspicion?

Reasonable suspicion regarding drunk driving means that the officer sees something that any reasonable person would believe shows the driver is impaired. Some of the more common signs of drunk driving include a vehicle that’s swerving or failing to stop at red lights or stop signs.

In some cases, the officers come into contact with a suspected drunk driver because of a different reason. This could be because of an issue with the vehicle, such as a cracked windshield or a license plate light that won’t illuminate. It could also be because of a motor vehicle crash.

What happens next?

The officer will try to determine what’s going on with the driver. This may involve talking to the driver, conducting a field sobriety test and asking the driver to take a chemical test. The goal of these is to either rule out impairment or to gather evidence that the driver was impaired while they were behind the wheel.

While talking the driver, the officer may notice signs like alcohol on the driver’s breath or slurred speech. The field sobriety tests can show signs like an inability to handle basic multitasking. A chemical test provides a numerical indication of alcohol in the system.

If law enforcement officers have probable cause that shows the driver is drunk, they will conduct an arrest. At that point, the defendant has to take steps to work out their defense strategy. Working with a legal representative who can explain the options that are available can help defendants determine how best to proceed.

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