In order to pull you over, detain you and arrest you, an officer must have a reason to believe you are involved in some crime. This reason is called “probable cause.” The officer cannot simply pull you over at random, on a hunch, or because of your race or the type of car you drive. And they cannot arrest you for DUI unless they have a good reason to suspect you were driving under the influence.
In a DUI case, if the officer stopped or arrested you without probable cause, all evidence they gathered may be inadmissible and you could have the charges dismissed.
When does an officer have a right to pull you over?
The first stage of probable cause involves why the officer pulled you over or approached your car in the first place. They have to have a reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed. In a DUI case, typically they will say something like:
- They saw you swerving
- They watched you take a turn too wide
- You crossed over the center line or veered between lanes
The officer also has a reasonable suspicion if they directly saw you violate a traffic law. For example:
- Rolling through a stop sign
- Running a red light
- Not signaling before turning or changing lanes
- Throwing litter out your window
- Having a broken tail light
- Expired registration
Last, an officer may also claim they approached your car to see if you needed assistance. This is common if you are stopped or parked on the side of the road. This also counts as a reasonable suspicion.
Note that DUI checkpoints are exceptions to the traffic stop rules, because they stop all motorists equally and drivers are screened at random. But the officer will still need probable cause to arrest you.
What counts as probable cause for an arrest in a DUI case?
Once they have stopped you, the officer still needs:
- A reason to suspect you of DUI
- Probable cause for actually arresting you on a DUI charge
In other words, even if they saw you swerving or speeding and thus had a right to pull you over, they can’t just walk up to your car and arrest you for DUI. They need to be able to explain their suspicion and cause for arrest.
Reasons to suspect you can include any observation that suggests intoxication, drinking or drug use. This can include your own behavior, such as slurred speech, lack of coordination, bloodshot eyes, etc. It can also include visible beer cans in the car, the smell of alcohol on your breath, or the scent of marijuana coming from the vehicle. If an officer can see or smell these things without entering the vehicle, it does not count as a search and they are allowed to act on this evidence.
Probable cause for arrest is a higher standard. Just because you slur your speech does not mean you are drunk, so the officer should take additional steps to confirm their suspicion. This may mean asking you more questions or asking if they can test your sobriety. The most common sources of probable cause in a DUI case include:
- You failed a voluntary roadside breath test
- You failed multiple field sobriety tests
- You verbally admitted that you had been drinking when the officer asked you
How do I find out whether I was stopped without probable cause?
The best thing to do after any DUI arrest is to speak with a lawyer who specializes in DUI law. Your lawyer will pull a copy of the police report and start their investigation there. The officer should have stated the reason why they pulled you over and detailed every step of the investigation that led to your arrest. A lawyer can tell easily if there is anything missing.
If I was stopped or arrested with no cause, how do I get my DUI case thrown out?
If your lawyer believes the officer did not have probable cause, they can file a motion under California Penal Code 1538.5, which governs motions to suppress evidence. The motion will include evidence supporting their claim that the stop or arrest was made without probable cause. The judge in your case can then make a ruling. If the motion succeeds, two outcomes are possible:
- All evidence from the time of the traffic stop forward is “suppressed,” or excluded from the case. This includes any evidence gathered after arrest such as a breath test, blood test or search of your car.
- Evidence from the time of the arrest onward is suppressed. This will not include initial suspicious signs such as slurred speech, stumbling, etc.
Often, this means there is no case against you and at this point the judge will simply dismiss the case. When a case is dismissed, it means you are free to go with no consequences.
This motion to suppress won’t always work. Sometimes the judge may decide to allow the evidence anyway and let the case proceed. Even then, the weak grounds for arrest give your lawyer an edge. The officer have holes in their story and your lawyer may be able to draw these out from testimony and use it to beat the charge.
If I was stopped without probable cause, will the DMV still suspend my license?
No. If your case is dismissed for lack of probable cause, the DMV will stop the license suspension process and you will be allowed to drive with no further issue.
Have you been charged with DUI? We can connect you with an experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyer and get you a FREE consultation. Fill out the form to the right or call (310) 896-2724 and get your free consultation today.