A traffic stop is when an officer pulls over a vehicle on suspicion of a crime or traffic violation. It is the most common way for a DUI arrest to start.
Most DUI arrests begin one of three ways:
- An accident
- A DUI checkpoint
- A routine traffic stop
Of the three, the traffic stop is probably the most common. It’s also the one with the most obscure rules and restrictions. Some of these rules give officers loopholes to search your car or arrest you, while others give you rights you may not know you have.
When can an officer pull over a vehicle?
Police do not have the right to pull over any vehicle on the road. In broad terms, they need one of two reasons to pull you over:
- They observed you committing a crime. For example, they clocked you speeding at a speed trap or witnessed you run a stop sign.
- They have a reason to suspect that you may have committed a crime. This might be because your vehicle matches the description of one reported in a crime (such as hit and run), or because they saw suspicious activity (like swerving).
An officer will often tell you why they pulled you over when they first approach the vehicle. If they don’t, or if you have reason to believe they may have pulled you over for an illegitimate reason (like your race), this could help your DUI defense if arrested.
What will they do if they suspect DUI?
Officers are trained to spot the signs of intoxication by both drugs and alcohol. They will observe your behavior and appearance. They will also note whether they smell alcohol on your breath or the scent of marijuana coming from the car.
They’ll also keep an eye out for any items that incriminate you, such as beer cans or bottles.
If they believe you are intoxicated, they may ask you to take a PAS test or perform field sobriety tests. If they believe you are intoxicated, they will arrest you.
What are my rights during a traffic stop?
Your most important right is the right not to incriminate yourself. Don’t lie, but don’t give them information that could harm you. Don’t say you had a glass of wine with dinner or agree that you were speeding. Be polite to the officer at all times, and follow their instructions.
You also have the right not to be searched, or have your car searched, unless you give permission. But there are many exceptions to this:
- Officers may ask you casually, “Do you mind if I look in the back seat?” If you say yes, they have permission to search.
- Officers can frisk you if they believe you may be dangerous.
- If an officer sees something incriminating out in the open, like drug paraphernalia, they have probable cause to search the car.
- If an officer sees you try to hide something, they have probable cause to search the car.
- If an officer arrests you, they can conduct a full “inventory search” of the car.
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.