The news of the DUI arrest of Paul Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi’s husband, has been splashed all over the news this week. Mr. Pelosi was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol after his Porsche was hit by another vehicle. Fortunately, the collision was minor, and no one was hurt
This incident serves as a warning to those who think they are fine to drive after a few drinks. Maybe such a driver can drive within the lines and within the speed limit. Maybe that slightly inebriated driver stops at all the stop signs and red lights and remembers to turn on the headlights. Maybe that driver does everything right. But then an unplanned event happens. Most often, it is exactly what happened to Mr. Pelosi: another driver causes an accident. Or it may be that an animal, say a deer, runs in front of the driver’s vehicle causing the driver to swerve or otherwise causing an incident that catches the attention of law enforcement. Maybe a pedestrian or bicyclist crosses the street too close to the driver’s on-coming vehicle causing an incident. You get the picture. Any number of unforeseen events, events that were not a direct result of the driver’s conduct, can trigger an encounter with law enforcement, which can trigger a DUI.
Under due process laws, an officer must have reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop. In other words, the officer must witness the driver violating a traffic law – it could be as simple as a broken taillight – but in most cases, an officer cannot stop vehicles without reason. (An exception is a sobriety checkpoint.) If the officer can articulate a reasonable suspicion for the stop, if the officer reasonably suspects the driver to be under the influence, he or she will initiate a DUI investigation. The officer must be able to articulate what caused the belief that the driver was under the influence. That could be slurred speech, the smell of alcohol or marijuana, blood shot eyes and so on. The bar gets a bit higher if the officer determines that the driver should be arrested for DUI. That is, the officer must have probable cause to arrest the driver for DUI. This requires specific facts for the arrest. This may be the same observations that triggered the investigation, but is often poor performance on FSTs (which I have discussed elsewhere, the informed driver should always decline).