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Why is the traffic stop so important in a DUI?

As you drove, you suddenly looked into your rearview mirror and saw flashing blue and red lights. You pulled over, and an officer from a Maryland law enforcement agency approached your vehicle. After a few minutes, the officer asked you to step outside the vehicle and began asking you questions. It soon became clear that the officer suspected you of drunk driving. After a breath test, and possibly field sobriety tests, you found yourself in the back of the police car instead of back behind the wheel of your vehicle.

When you talk to your attorney, some of the first questions involve why the officer stopped you in the first place. You might wonder why it matters what initiated the traffic stop. It matters because without reasonable suspicion for police to make the stop, whatever took place after that may not be admissible in court, which means that the court could dismiss your case.

What is reasonable suspicion?

Reasonable suspicion and probable cause do not equal the same thing. Officers do not have to meet the same threshold for reasonable suspicion as they do for probable cause. The officer only needs to reasonably believe that you may have committed a crime in order to initiate a traffic stop. The officer may then detain you for a short time to conduct a limited investigation.

If the officer suspects you of driving under the influence, the breath test and/or the field sobriety tests allegedly provide the more stringent probable cause for a DUI arrest, which means that enough evidence exists to establish that you more than likely committed a crime.

What behaviors or actions could provide reasonable suspicion?

Now that you begin to see the importance of the traffic stop, you may wonder what behaviors or actions provide an officer with the reasonable suspicion needed to stop you on suspicion of DUI. Some observations by officers that may lead to a reasonable suspicion including the following:

  • Weaving from lane to lane
  • Crossing, hugging or straddling the center line
  • Braking frequently
  • Making illegal turns
  • Stopping in the roadway without an obvious reason
  • Driving erratically
  • Driving too slow or too fast
  • Coming close to hitting other vehicles or objects

Reasonable suspicion can also include an accident or finding you passed out behind the wheel of your vehicle. In reality, even if an officer pulls you over for something simple such as a broken tail light, reasonable suspicion can develop after coming into contact with you.

Exercise your right to legal counsel

As you can see, any defense to a DUI involves more than just your BAC and your ability to walk a straight line or stand on one leg. The traffic stop often becomes the star of the show since police officers must have a valid reason to stop you in the first place. Even a misdemeanor DUI can have adverse effects on your personal and professional lives. You have the right to legal counsel, and it would behoove you to take advantage of that right as soon as possible after your arrest.

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