DUI Charges: Understanding Reasonable Suspicion & Probable Cause

If you’ve been arrested and charged with drunk driving, you may be worried that it’s “game over.” Maybe you took a breathalyzer test and it showed you were over the legal limit. Maybe you failed field sobriety tests. Maybe the evidence against you is just too strong.

Many DUI defendants feel this way. But you should know that DUI cases aren’t always as airtight as they might seem. An experienced criminal defense attorney, or DUI lawyer will carefully examine all aspects of the DUI stop to determine if mistakes were made or if your rights were violated.

As just one example, consider the traffic stop itself. Most people know that in order to make an arrest, a police officer must have “probable cause.” There is a similar but lesser standard known as “reasonable suspicion” that must be met in order to initiate a traffic stop.

Probable cause means that the officer has obtained enough evidence to believe that a crime has most likely been committed. Reasonable suspicion, however, means that an officer believes a crime may have been committed or a law/ordinance was violated. Because reasonable suspicion is an easier standard to meet, officers can only briefly detain suspects and conduct limited investigations. In order to make an arrest, the limited investigation must reveal evidence that establishes probable cause.

What does this mean for Nevada drivers? In short, the officer needs to have a legal reason to pull you over. This could be driving behavior that suggests impairment (swerving, for instance), but it could also be a traffic violation or an illegal vehicle defect (like a burned-out headlight).

A traffic stop made without reasonable suspicion may be considered illegal by courts. The following reasons for a traffic stop would typically NOT hold up in court:

  • The driver was black (or another minority)
  • The driver “looked suspicious”
  • The driver did not look wealthy enough to own and drive such a nice car
  • The officer just had a “bad feeling” about the driver

Courts often give officers a lot of leeway when it comes to making traffic stops, but officers are not given carte blanche. If the traffic stop is deemed illegal, all evidence obtained during the stop may be thrown out.

This is just one of the many aspects of a DUI case that can be challenged. If you are facing charges for driving while intoxicated, please seek the help of an experienced DUI attorney.

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