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What are reasonable suspicion and probable cause in DUI stops?

Police officers can't just pull people over because they want to cause them problems. Instead, they need to have reasonable suspicion that a crime is in progress or that one has been committed. Seeing a vehicle license plate that's expired or a person missing a headlight are valid reasons to stop the vehicle.

In the case of drunk driving, there are specific markers that the officers will look for before they pull a vehicle over. In theory, police officers should initiate a traffic stop with the intent to determine what's going on if a driver shows signs of impairment.

What are the common signs of impairment?

There are a host of signs of impairment that the officers will look for when they're out on patrols. The more common ones include:

  • Driving on the center line
  • Swerving from one lane to another
  • Making illegal turns
  • Braking frequently
  • Stopping without cause
  • Driving very slowly
  • Driving erratically
  • Failing to obey traffic signs and signals

The key to initiating the traffic stop is that the officer has to notice something that makes them think that the driver is breaking the law. This is a pretty low standard for them to have to meet.

What is probable cause for an arrest?

Once they initiate the traffic stop, they can conduct testing to determine whether a driver is likely impaired or not. This may include asking for the driver to take a chemical test or a field sobriety test. Should you permit those tests, the officer may gather the information they need to reach the standard of probable cause. They may initiate an arrest if they can meet that standard.

What should you do if you're arrested for drunk driving?

One of the most important things to remember if you're arrested for drunk driving is that you have rights. The right to remain silent and the right to an attorney to represent you are two important ones. Be sure you invoke your rights, and work to get started on your defense quickly after the arrest. You might have important time limits on some aspects of the defense strategy that you will have to ensure you don't allow to expire.

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