The United States Constitution protects us from certain police conduct. For example, before you can be legally pulled over on the suspicion of drunk driving, the police officer must have what is called a reasonable suspicion that you were operating your vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. In order for you to be arrested, the police officer must have probable cause that you were committing the crime of driving while under the influence of alcohol.
Just what does the terms “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause” mean? This article discusses these important terms in more detail.
Reasonable Suspicion – What It Means In DWI Cases
The standard of reasonable suspicion is somewhat lower than the standard of probable cause. In the important case of Terry v. Ohio, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement can stop and briefly detain a motorist for investigative purposes if the officer has a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity is afoot, even if the officer does not have probable cause. It was this case, which was ruled upon in 1968, that introduced the idea of reasonable suspicion and made it part of the legal vocabulary.
Under the DWI scenario, a police officer can only pull a motorist over if he has a reasonable suspicion of a DWI. A variety of different behaviors can constitute behavior that would lead law enforcement into having reasonable suspicion:
- Drifting out the path of travel
- Driving the wrong way
- Driving erratically
- Running red lights or stop signs
- Getting into car accidents
Defining Probable Cause In a DWI Scenario
In order for law enforcement to arrest you without a warrant, they must have probable cause. Case law defines probable cause as “knowledge of facts and circumstance sufficient for a prudent person to believe a suspect is committing or has committed an offense.”
The police need to assess whether probable cause exists in light of the totality of the circumstances presented to the arresting officer. In addition, the circumstances must warrant reasonable belief that the motorist being arrested on the suspicion of drunk driving has actually committed the offense.
Regardless of what happened that led to your DWI arrest, there is little doubt an experienced DWI lawyer can defend you and make a significant difference in the final outcome of your case. The important issues surrounding probable cause and reasonable suspicion are only two of the possible issues that your attorney will need to address in preventing a DWI conviction.
Have you or someone you know been charged with the offense of driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance? If so, you need to immediately consult with an experienced drunk driving attorney to help you successfully fight the charges.
For more information or to schedule a complimentary consultation with a New Jersey DUI attorney, please contact the Law Offices of Dan T. Matrafajlo at (908) 248-4404 a free consultation.