Attorneys Who Make A Difference

Reasonable suspicion for drunk driving stops

On Behalf of | Jan 17, 2024 | DWI Defense

Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard between a mere hunch and probable cause. Law enforcement officers must have a belief, based on specific and articulable facts, that a person may be engaged in criminal activity, such as drunk driving.  

Understanding reasonable suspicion and its role in drunk driving cases is critical. 

Defining reasonable suspicion 

Reasonable suspicion serves as the starting point for a drunk driving stop. It’s the initial belief by law enforcement officers that a driver might be operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This belief can’t be arbitrary. It must be based on specific facts and concrete observations that led them to suspect a driver of impaired driving. Speeding, swerving and erratic driving are all possible signs that can equate to reasonable suspicion. 

From reasonable suspicion to probable cause 

While reasonable suspicion is the starting point for a drunk driving stop, law enforcement officers must determine whether there is probable cause to make an arrest. Probable cause represents a higher legal standard, requiring more concrete evidence than reasonable suspicion.  

Transitioning from reasonable suspicion to probable cause typically involves field sobriety tests or breathalyzer tests, which provide more specific evidence of impairment. If the results of these tests confirm intoxication, officers may then have probable cause to arrest for drunk driving. 

Understanding reasonable suspicion is pivotal for anyone who’s facing drunk driving charges. This, as well as probable cause, can become central points in a defense strategy. Discussing the matter with someone who understands the ins and outs of these charges is critical to ensure the defendant builds a strategy they’re comfortable with.