When Can Officers Pull Me Over for DUI?
DUI stops are legal if the officer has enough proof to satisfy the reasonable suspicion requirement. This rule basically states that, to detain suspects, officers must have an evidence-based hunch that the suspect is up to no good. Several recent Supreme Court cases have watered down this rule. As a result, in pretrial hearings, police officers usually get the benefit of the doubt.
Many jurors are much less forgiving. That’s especially true if a police shooting was in the news immediately prior to a trial. So, in many cases, a Virginia DUI defense attorney doesn’t challenge the legality of a stop during a pretrial hearing. Instead, an attorney waits and brings up such matters at trial. The jury cannot declare that a stop was illegal. That’s a question of law a judge must decide. But jurors can conclude that the officer railroaded the defendant. That’s a question of fact jurors may consider.
Most officers pull over most drivers for moving or nonmoving traffic violations. The violation might be obvious, like speeding or running a red light. The violation might also be ticky-tack, like failing to stop before exiting a private driveway or changing lanes within fifty feet of an intersection.
Nonmoving violations include infractions like expired tags, an improperly secured license plate, or a dangling air freshener.
These stops are basically pretext stops. If Mike is driving 1mph over the speed limit, most officers would let him go without stopping him. But if MIke is driving 1mph over the speed limit at three in the morning or after leaving a bar, he’ll get pulled over.
Despite the underlying purpose of these stops, courts have consistently held that they are perfectly legal.
Furtive movements, like nervous glances into the rear view mirror, are suspicious but not illegal. So, they could be relevant to a probable cause determination. But they’re irrelevant for reasonable suspicion purposes.
As mentioned, many officers suspect the driver is intoxicated when they pull him/her over. To confirm this suspicion, when they get to the “license and registration please” phase, officers look for physical symptoms of intoxication, such as:
- Bloodshot eyes,
- Slow reflexes,
- Odor of alcohol, and
- Slurred speech.
Individually, these symptoms prove almost nothing. If an officer smelled alcohol in the car or on Mike’s clothes, that scent simply proves Mike was around people who were drinking. In these cases, a Leesburg criminal defense lawyer could challenge reasonable suspicion. But the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
The “sir/ma’am have you been drinking” question usually comes next. Drivers have a Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer that question, or any other question. They must only obey basic “step out of the car” commands.
If drivers don’t answer questions, arrests are inevitable. But an arrest was probably coming anyway. Plus, a refusal to admit alcohol consumption denies the state important evidence at trial.
One final word about DUI patrols. If supervisors tell officers to make as many DUI arrests as possible, they often take shortcuts during the initial stop to pad their arrest numbers. These shortcuts hurt the case later.
Work With a Tough-Minded Loudoun County Lawyer
There’s a big difference between an arrest and a conviction in criminal law. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Leesburg, contact Simms Showers, LLP, Attorneys at Law. Virtual, home, and jail visits are available.