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Reasonable suspicion: Suspected drunk driving stops

On Behalf of | Mar 12, 2024 | Criminal Defense |

Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard that enables law enforcement officers to stop, detain or investigate an individual if they have a rational belief that the individual is involved in criminal activity. The belief must be based on specific facts that a reasonable person would agree point to the likelihood of criminal activity.

Unlike probable cause, which requires a higher degree of belief that a person has committed a crime, reasonable suspicion is based on less concrete evidence. It can be gathered from circumstances, law enforcement training and an officer’s experience.

Applying reasonable suspicion to suspected drunk driving stops

Reasonable suspicion plays a crucial role in the initial stop of a vehicle for a suspected drunk driver. An officer might develop reasonable suspicion based on observations such as:

  • Erratic driving
  • Swerving
  • Excessively slow or fast driving
  • Ignoring traffic signals
  • Making illegal turns

These actions provide the officer with facts that suggest the driver may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs so they can stop the vehicle.

The investigative process following a stop

Once a vehicle is stopped under the suspicion of drunk driving, the officer will try to determine what’s going on. Signs of intoxication, such as the smell of alcohol, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes or the presence of alcohol containers in the vehicle may lead to the officer asking the driver to take a field sobriety test or a chemical test. The result of those tests may establish probable cause for an arrest.

Anyone in this position should ensure that they understand their options for responding to the charges that they’re facing. As such, seeking legal guidance as proactively as possible is generally wise.