The Fourth Amendment protects your right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure by the government. This right means that in order for a law enforcement officer to lawfully pull you over, he or she must have a good reason to do so. Specifically, he or she must have probable cause, or a reasonable belief that criminal activity is taking place, has taken place, or will take place. Probable cause is the legal reasoning behind the officer's actions. It must be greater than a simple gut suspicion or guess but does not require hard proof. DUI stops are no exception; an officer must have legal reasoning for pulling you over.
In general, there are several different observable behaviors that can serve as probable cause for a traffic stop. Swerving between lanes, abrupt acceleration or deceleration, wide turns, and poor maneuvering can all be indicators to a police officer that the driver is under the influence. You may also be lawfully pulled over if your car is not up to code or if you need to make repairs to ensure your car is roadworthy. Failing to follow basic traffic laws is probable cause as well. It is important to note that you can still be arrested for a DUI even if you are pulled over for a non-DUI related reason. For example, if an officer pulls you over for having a taillight out, he or she could still arrest you for a DUI if you had alcohol on your breath or were otherwise exhibiting signs of intoxication. This doesn't necessarily mean you will be convicted, but you can be detained and brought into custody. Because there are so many reasons why an officer can pull you over, it is generally not difficult for probable cause to be identified. If you were not driving unsafely, however, your blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, must be established for you to be charged with a DUI. California has two different but related, DUI charges. One makes it illegal to drive with a BAC of .08% or higher and one makes it illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol. If your BAC is below .08% and you were pulled over for something like a request to repair your car, the officer would not have probable cause to arrest you for a DUI. If your BAC is .08% or higher, you will typically be charged with both offenses. In some cases, however, you can be charged with a DUI even if your BAC did not exceed .08%.
An important exception to the general requirement that probable cause must be identified in order for an officer to stop a driver is the DUI roadblock. This is also called a sobriety checkpoint. Not all states implement sobriety checkpoints but California does make use of them. Under California law, an officer may lawfully stop any motorist at a designated checkpoint as long as they are adhering to the laws and regulations that govern the use checkpoints in the state. Stops at checkpoints are random, so an officer does not need probable cause to stop you.
Without probable cause, a DUI stop, and subsequent arrest may not be lawful. Evidence that results from a stop in the absence of probable cause may be deemed inadmissible in court. This means that the evidence cannot be used against you in your case. For example, if an officer pulled you over based on prejudices or a personal motivation, but did not have probable cause to do so, you may be able to challenge any evidence he or she does gather. Just as an officer must have probable cause to pull you over, he or she must also have probable cause to begin a DUI investigation. For example, the officer must have reason to believe you were driving while under the influence in order to request you to complete a roadside sobriety test or to test your BAC. The officer must also have probable cause to arrest you and take you into custody.
If an officer pulled you over without probable cause, you may want to consider hiring an experienced California DUI defense attorney to assist you with your case. You do have rights you can assert in this situation. Challenging the probable cause, or lack thereof, and making a motion to suppress evidence is complicated and best handled by a skilled DUI defense attorney. If handled properly, your DUI charge could be dismissed on the basis that the officer did not have probable cause to pull you over.
Are you facing DUI charges and have concerns about the legality of your stop? Contact attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team for legal help in Tulare, Fresno or Kings County. Experienced in DUI defense, Mr. Martens will work hard to ensure any unlawfully obtained evidence is suppressed in your case. With over ten years experience in criminal defense, Attorney Martens has taken over 50 cases to trial and will not be afraid to do the same for you. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.