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How do probable cause and reasonable suspicion differ?

| Feb 25, 2020 | Uncategorized |

In order to be pulled over for the suspicion of drunk driving, police officers need to have reasonable suspicion that you’re operating the vehicle while you’re impaired. This is a much lower standard than the probable cause that’s required if you’re being arrested for driving under the influence.

It might not seem like there is much difference between these two standards; however, the small points regarding each one can have a big impact on some defense strategies. Anyone who’s facing a drunk driving charge should understand these points.

What is reasonable suspicion?

Reasonable suspicion simply means that the officer thinks you might be breaking the law. In the simplest of terms, reasonable suspicion means that the officer sees something that needs further investigation. Regarding drunk driving, things like swerving, speeding, frequent braking, illegal turning, stopping for no reason or almost hitting objects can provide the basis of a traffic stop. Traffic accidents and completely unrelated factors like expired license plates also provide the basis for reasonable suspicion to conduct a stop.

Once the officer pulls you over, they will try to determine whether you’re intoxicated. This is done through things like standardized field sobriety tests and chemical testing. They might also ask you questions about what you’ve had to drink and similar points. Remember that you do have rights, so you shouldn’t say anything that might come back to haunt you.

What is probable cause?

The results of the tests can give the officer the information they need to have probable cause to conduct an arrest. To meet the standard of probable cause, the officer has to have evidence that points to you likely committing the crime. The standard is set by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

While most people think of probable cause as being needed to secure a warrant, it’s also the standard in warrantless arrests. In these cases, the officer can arrest you but then they must show the court that they have probable cause for the arrest. The probable cause factors also come into the picture if the prosecution opts to pursue the criminal charges against a person.

Defendants in drunk driving cases should work closely with their attorney to determine what defense strategies are present. Discussing what happened during the traffic stop and the actions of the officer may be beneficial. In some cases, the small things can clue your lawyer into potential defense points, such as civil rights violations.