Driving under the influence (DUI) arrests are not uncommon. In the year 2016, law enforcement agencies around New Jersey arrested an average of 64 people on suspicion of DUI every single day, according to state figures. In total, more than 23,500 motorists found themselves in custody and accused of DUI that year.
Was every single one of these arrests, however, actually lawful? Maybe not. And the reason might go back to the very first moments of the traffic stop.
Defining reasonable suspicion
There are strict standards a law enforcement officer must follow when seeking to pull over a driver. These traffic stops can not be random, or done solely because an officer feels like stopping a certain vehicle. Rather, an officer needs to have reasonable suspicion the driver has broken the law. It cannot be a hunch - the officer must have articulable, observable facts to prompt the traffic stop.
So what actions actually qualify as providing reasonable suspicion? In the case of DUI it might be directly related, such as:
- A car going the wrong way down a street
- A driver swerving back and forth
- A driver holding an open bottle of beer or liquor
However, the evidence does not have to be initially related to DUI. For example, a driver speeding or running a red light can provide reasonable suspicion for a lawful traffic stop. In the course of that stop, a law enforcement officer may observe signs of impairment, which ultimately leads to a DUI arrest. Other minor traffic violations - expired registration, for example, or a broken tail light - may also be considered reasonable suspicion.
Why this matters
Why is this important in the case of a DUI arrest? If a law enforcement officer did not have a valid reason to stop you, then any evidence they found or arrest they made afterward might be able to be challenged.
This is why it is vital to go over all the facts of the case, with an attorney if possible, following a DUI arrest. A lawyer can pore over the details to help determine whether law enforcement acted within the scope of the law, or made an error.
Everybody knows driving under the influence is a serious problem. That doesn't mean officers can ignore your rights when trying to enforce the law.