DUI Traffic Stop Must Have Reasonable Suspicion

Police officers must have “reasonable suspicion” to pull over a person. Reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is about to be committed is all that is necessary. However, having been a DUI Defense Lawyer in Orange County for many years has shown me that most stops are based on probable cause such as simple traffic violations and/or reckless driving. If an officer suspects a person is driving under the influence, but the person has not violated any traffic violation, the police officer must have a “reasonable suspicion” before the driver can be pulled over.

Once an officer has pulled an individual over, the officer may ask the individual to step out of the vehicle. If the officer based the stop on reasonable suspicion, he may detain the driver only long enough to confirm or dispel the officer’s suspicions. If the stop was based on probable cause, the officer may conduct a more thorough investigation.

A recent Supreme Court decision has upheld the lower standard of “reasonable suspicion” in State vs. Starkey. In that case, Starkey was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. The stop was based on the officer’s observation/opinion that Starkey was attempting to avoid the police patrol car. Starkey’s attorney filed a motion to suppress the evidence on the grounds that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Starkey. The circuit court granted Starkey’s motion and suppressed the evidence. However, the Supreme Court then reversed the circuit court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.

In the Starkey case, the officer observed Starkey stopping and waiting until the officer was ahead and then turning. The Officer then turned and followed Starkey. Starkey made several attempts to avoid the officer and ended up going in a circle at which time the officer pulled Starkey over. The Supreme Court ruled that Starkey’s actions warranted “reasonable suspicion”. It is important to note that none of Starkey’s actions were illegal. The sole basis for the stop was the police officer’s suspicion. In my view, this is clearly a case in which an appeal was warranted and the Supreme Court’s reasoning for it’s decision to uphold the “reasonable suspicion” stop was weak at best.

Anyone who has been arrested for driving under the influence needs an experienced criminal defense attorney, specializing in DUI, who is familiar with the law as it relates to police officers and their duty to follow the law when it comes to stops and detention. A police officer that makes a mistake or fails to show “reasonable suspicion” can result in a charge of DUI being dismissed.

If you would like to know more about driving under the influence, contact Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney William M. Weinbert at his Irvine, California office at 949-474-8008