The Supreme Court has mandated that in order for a police officer to pull a motorist over for a suspected DUI, the officer must have reasonable suspicion of illegal conduct. However, there is a great deal of disagreement about what constitutes reasonable suspicion that the driver has been drinking. The strength of "reasonable suspicion" varies from case to case but it may be a critical portion of your defense.
Why Were You Stopped?
In order to stop a vehicle, the law dictates that an officer must have “articulable and reasonable suspicion” that the driver is engaging in illegal activity. An officer may not pull a driver over just to check for license and registration; the officer must observe the driver engaging in behavior that indicates that the driver is breaking the law.
In DUI stops, officers can not pull you over just because you were leaving the area of a bar or because it is late at night. This may be their true motivation for a stop but they must rely on some driving behavior. Weaving within the lane over a substantial distance or weaving across lanes are both grounds for reasonable suspicion of DUI. Other reasons include driving too slowly, speeding, failure to signal, car equipment violations, and squealing tires. It is important to note that any of these observed behaviors can be disputed in court.
Many times I have found that the reason for the stop is a loose excuse at best. Driving too slowly can be caused by weather or traffic, weaving within the lane can be explained by ice on the road, there are even times where the listed reason for the stop is flat out false.
A DUI investigation may be performed for many reasons. It is important to challenge the officer's stop to make sure that the reasons listed within a police report were not just a pretext to perform an investigation. In DUI stops, officers can not pull you over just because you were leaving the area of a bar or because it is late at night. This may be their true motivation for a stop but they must rely on some driving behavior.
For instance, during the traffic stop, if the officer sees an open container of alcohol or if the driver exhibits behavior that gives the officer probable cause that he or she has been drinking (slurred speech, glassy eyes, odor of alcohol on their breath, confusion, etc), then the officer may conduct a DUI investigation.
A pretextual stop is a stop that was made for the sole purpose of conducting a DUI investigation. The officer does not care about the traffic violation, they are searching for a reason to conduct a DUI investigation.This is illegal because it circumvents the reasonable suspicion requirement; The officer does not care about the traffic violation, they are just searching for a reason to perform the stop. By following nearly anyone for a long enough period of time an officer is likely to find a driving violation of some sort. A pretextual stop can lead to many different types of investigations including Driving Without A License, DUI, Drug Offenses, etc.
Many times we see people charged with DUIs who were never even told the reason they were pulled over. They may have a defense. If the stop is considered illegal than any evidence obtained would be "fruit of the poisonous tree" - in essence, the BAC results obtained after the stop can not be used against the driver at trial.
If you think you case involves a pretextual stop, call me to discuss the case. A simple conversation may end up being the difference between a dismissal and a conviction.
For more information, take a look at the blog article I wrote on this subject: Pretextual Stops.
Roadblock or Avoidance Of A Roadblock
Police departments have to follow certain protocols in order to conduct a roadblock. These are constitutional requirements and, if they are not followed, this can constitute a defense as the entire stop may have been illegal.
If you make a turn on to a side street or make a U-turn right before a roadblock, a police officer may suspect that you are attempting to avoid the checkpoint and pull you over. However, in order to stop you, the officer needs to have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that you are avoiding the stop and not making a legitimate turn. You may have needed to turn around because you forgot something or turned onto a side street because that was the direction that you needed to go. If you didn't commit any traffic infractions while making the turn, then there may be no reason for a law enforcement officer to pull you over.