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Reasonable suspicion, probable cause and drunk driving

Drinking and driving don't mix, even when you think you are able to handle doing both the same evening. There is always a chance that you will be pulled over after drinking. Law enforcement officers are trained to watch for signs of impairment.

When a cop sees something that could indicate an that a driver is intoxicated, they might pull that driver over to check. Once they have initiated the traffic stop, they will examine whether the driver is sober enough to drive legally.

Signs of impaired driving

Drivers who are impaired exhibit similar driving behaviors that seem universal. These include:

  • Braking frequently without reason
  • Making illegal turns
  • Stopping for no reason, often in the middle of the road
  • Weaving between lanes
  • Straddling the center line
  • Driving too fast or too slow
  • Failing to follow traffic signs and signals

There is also the possibility that something completely unrelated might be the reason for a traffic stop. Having a brake light out or tint that is too dark might lead to a traffic stop during which the officer determines that you might be intoxicated.

Determining impairment

At first, the officer might speak to you to determine if any other actions are necessary. You might be asked to take a field sobriety test or a breath test. While you do have the right to refuse these tests, you might face administrative actions and criminal justice proceedings for your refusal.

It is important to understand the difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause. Reasonable suspicion means the officer sees something that indicates you might be breaking the law. Probable cause means that the officer has valid proof that you almost certainly committed a crime. You can't be arrested based on reasonable suspicion, but you can be arrested for probable cause.

Protecting your rights

If the officer does find probable cause to arrest you, they will place handcuffs on you and bring you to jail. This will start the long process of battling against the drunk driving charge. You need to learn about your defense options, which might depend, at least partially, on whether you have any prior drunk driving convictions. Getting legal advice is an important step in protecting yourself.

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