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DUIs: reasonable suspicion vs. probable cause

When you're pulled over, and the officer suspects you of driving under the influence, your head starts to race. How many drinks did I have? Did the officer have a good reason to pull me over?

The answer to the second question all rests on the difference between reasonable suspicion and  probable cause. Reasonable suspicion is exactly what it sounds like: the officer had a reasonable suspicion that you were driving under the influence. Reasonable suspicion can be established when the officer witnesses any of the following:

  • Weaving in and out of the lane.
  • Driving slowly.
  • Coming close to hitting another car.
  • Making an illegal turn.
  • Braking frequently or without cause.
  • Driving erratically.

Any of these are enough to warrant a stop. However, there's a tougher test the officer must use to determine if he or she can arrest you. Probable cause means the officer has a good reason to believe you've committed a crime. This could be smelling alcohol on your breath, seeing opened containers of alcohol or obtaining the results of a field sobriety test. Any or all of these signs could point to intoxication.

While this may sound cut and dry, there are actually a range of gray areas defendants can use to defend themselves against charges of drunk driving.

Whether it's a first DUI offense or you're looking at tougher penalties as a repeat offender, an attorney may be able to help you keep your driver's license, get the charges reduced or have them completely dropped.

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