We've all been there — you're driving down the road after a long day, maybe coming home after a quick stop at the bar. Suddenly, you see the flashing lights behind you and pull over to the side of the road. In many cases, you may not even know why you're being pulled over.
Protecting our rights as citizens begins with the smallest rights, which are just as important to understand as the larger headline rights. Understanding the difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause can help you defend your rights and the rights of those around you.
Law enforcement can initiate a traffic stop for almost any reason, but they are supposed to have some sort of reason. This is known as reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion as it applies to DUI stop means that the officer observed something that led them to believe the driver may be intoxicated. That might mean some element of driving, like a rolled stop sign, or drifty driving. It might also not be an element of driving, if the officer comes upon an accident, or finds an individual behind the wheel of a parked car.
On the other hand, moving beyond a simple stop to an arrest requires meeting the standard of probable cause. Probable cause in a DUI stop means the officer believes that they have evidence that a driver is probably intoxicated. This could be accomplished by administering a field sobriety test or a breathalyzer test. It is also important to note that refusing to cooperate with an officer will almost certainly trigger an arrest on its own.
While the difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause is sometimes very small, but it is a crucial distinction to understand. If you believe that your rights were violated in a traffic stop, or that the officer in your stop did not abide by proper procedures, you should not hesitate to have your situation evaluated by an experienced attorney. High-quality legal counsel can help ensure that your rights remain protected as you seek justice.
Source: FIndlaw, "What is Reasonable Suspicion for a DUI Stop?," accessed March 24, 2017