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The link between traffic stops and drunk driving charges

On Behalf of | Jul 5, 2021 | Criminal Law, Traffic Violations

Traffic stops tend to be stressful experiences for drivers. Like many other drivers, you may have been involved in a traffic stop even though you were not doing anything wrong at the time. Unfortunately, unreasonable traffic stops are not all that uncommon, and some may even lead to serious criminal charges for things like drunk driving. 

If a police officer recently arrested you for driving under the influence of alcohol, one of your first questions may be whether your traffic stop was even justified. Indiana police officers may not pull drivers over without reasonable suspicion for doing so. Here are a few ways you might be able to recognize a reasonable traffic stop. 

Traffic stops and reasonable suspicion 

Drunk drivers tend to exhibit certain behaviors when behind the wheel. Police officers who spot a driver engaging in these behaviors have reasonable suspicion that a crime might be taking place, and they are, therefore, able to initiate a traffic stop. Examples of dangerous drunk driving behavior include: 

  • Drifting in and out of lanes of traffic 
  • Hugging the center line 
  • Making illegal turns 
  • Narrowly avoiding collisions with other cars or objects 
  • Frequent braking 

These are not the only reasons an officer can pull you over, though. An officer who pulls over someone for speeding or a burned-out brake light might notice indications of an intoxicated driver intoxicated after speaking with him or her during the stop. Reasonable suspicion can be a factor even if an officer did not directly witness someone driving, such as by finding a driver unconscious at the wheel after arriving at the scene of an accident. 

What about probable cause? 

A police officer needs reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop and temporarily detain a motorist. However, reasonable suspicion is not enough to justify making an arrest. Instead, an officer must have probable cause. 

For example, an officer can pull you over for making an illegal turn but cannot arrest you for a DUI based on this observation alone. Instead, he or she must have some kind of evidence that justifies making an arrest for a crime. Officers often obtain this evidence through Breathalyzer tests or field sobriety tests. 

What if there was no reasonable suspicion? 

If a police officer pulled you over without any reasonable suspicion, then any resulting criminal charges might not hold up. It is not uncommon for people charged with DUIs during unjustified traffic stops to fight those charges based on the lack of reasonable suspicion. Knowing where to start with this process can be understandably overwhelming, though. 

Part of what makes fighting drunk driving charges so difficult is the pace at which they move. You could potentially lose your driver’s license very early on in the process, even if a judge never actually convicts you. This is why it is so important for those facing DUI charges to be ready to take a proactive interest in planning their criminal defense.