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Lack of probable cause as a DUI defense

| Sep 1, 2020 | Firm News |

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. In the context of a DUI, this means that officers must have reasonable suspicion to stop your vehicle and probable cause to arrest you on DUI charges. If either of these is missing, your DUI charges may be reduced or dropped altogether.

Reasonable suspicion

As long as the officer has a reasonable belief that you have broken the law in some capacity, the need for reasonable suspicion will be met. While driving recklessly, driving at extremely slow speeds, or swerving between lanes may all indicate a possible DUI, an officer is allowed to stop a vehicle for any traffic violation, even if it has nothing to do with driving under the influence. The one exception to the requirement for reasonable suspicion is a DUI checkpoint. At a DUI checkpoint, Ocean City officers can stop your vehicle even without reasonably suspecting that you violated the law.

Probable cause

Reasonable suspicion is required for the initial traffic stop, but probable cause is required for a DUI arrest. Probable cause requires the officer to have a reasonable belief based on the facts and circumstances that the driver is under the influence before arresting them for a DUI.

In order to establish probable cause, the officer generally will conduct an investigation during the traffic stop. This investigation will include:

  • Making observations – The officer will determine if the driver is exhibiting signs of impairment including bloodshot eyes or slurred speech.
  • Field sobriety tests – If the officer suspects that the driver is impaired, he or she may ask the driver to submit to field sobriety tests, including the horizontal gaze nystagmus, walk-and-turn, and one-leg stand.
  • Breath or chemical test – The officer may also request the driver to submit to a Breathalyzer or other chemical test to determine if their blood alcohol concentration is above the .08 legal limit.

Based on the results of the investigation, the officer may determine he or she has enough evidence to establish probable cause and will make the DUI arrest.

Officers generally do not need much to establish probable cause. In fact, from a prosecutorial standpoint, establishing probable cause is a simpler task than defending against an assertion that the relatively low threshold for probable cause has been met. Although the burden is high refuting probable cause, experienced DUI attorneys in Ocean City are skilled at navigating the complexities of DUI defense.

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