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What Is A Reasonable Suspicion to Stop in a Texas DUI/DWI Case?

By Scott Brown of Scott M. Brown & Associates posted in Criminal Defense on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Texas police can’t just stop anyone on the road.  In DUI cases, law enforcement must have a reasonable suspicion to believe a traffic offense has been committed or that that the driver drove while intoxicated (DWI) or under the influence of narcotics (DUI).

If police have this reasonable suspicion, they can then demand that the driver of the vehicle pull over to the side of the highway.

If the officer reasonably suspects that the driver was under the influence of alcohol while driving, the police officer can then request that the driver take a breath or a blood test.

There is an exception. Police in Texas and most other states can set up sobriety checkpoints. Normally these checkpoints are set up on busy holidays like Jul 4th. A typical checkpoint is one where every 10th car is stopped.

If the police do not have a proper reasonable suspicion, than a strong argument can be made that any breath tests, blood tests, field sobriety tests, or any statements by the driver were tainted by the improper stop. This means the tests and statements should not be admissible in any criminal case.

Reasonable Suspicion vs. Probable Cause

Reasonable suspicion is often confused with the phrase “probable cause.” They are not the same.

Reasonable suspicion is a less severe standard.  Probably cause is directly mentioned in the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Probable cause is a standard used as a legal basis for determining whether a warrant should be issued to conduct a search or an arrest.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Reasonable suspicion is a court standard, not a constitutional standard, that holds that officers who have a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot can briefly detain someone for the purposes of an investigation.

If the investigation leads the officer to believe that someone drove their vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, then the officer can take the investigation to the next level and conduct field tests or chemical tests.

The investigatory part of the stop means the officer also has the right to ask the suspect about his/her behavior. Investigatory stops should be temporary.

The focus of the investigation is to confirm the officer’s suspicions or convince the officer than no criminal activity has taken place.

If the officer has reasonable suspicion to stop you (a low standard) and conducts an investigation that shows your breath test is .08 or more  – then the officer has probable cause (the higher standard) to arrest/seize you.

Examples Of Reasonable Suspicion In Texas DUI Stops

The following are a few examples of reasonable suspicion. Note that the officer doesn’t need to have a reasonable suspicion that the suspect was drinking while driving.

The need is to show that the officer had a reasonable suspicion that some traffic offense or criminal action was taking place.

A defective light or driving without a current inspections sticker can also be grounds for a stop. If the driving behavior suggestions impairment, that qualifies.

Examples of reasonable suspicion include:

• Illegal turns

• Constant lane shifting

• Straddling the middle line

• Speeding

• Running through a red light

• Near accidents with other drivers

• Going the wrong way down a one-way street

• Hitting the brakes frequently

• Driving on the shoulder of  the road

• Stopping in the middle of the highway

The police can conduct breath or chemical tests even if the officer didn’t actually see the driver operate their car.

For example, if a police officer is called to the scene of a traffic accident and the driver is in the front seat unconscious, then the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe the driver drove while intoxicated.

He can then give the conscious driver a breath, blood, or field test. The same standard applies if the police come across a driver who is unconscious on the side of the road and in the car.

Who Decides Reasonable Suspicion?

The officer does not have the final say. Otherwise officers would always say they had reasonable suspicion. Normally, a judge will decide if a reasonable suspicion existed based on objective facts and the traffic circumstances at the time of the investigation.

What Do I Do If I Get Pulled Over?

At the moment of your arrest, you can only rely on yourself to get out of that tough situation. Here are some steps you should take to protect yourself.

Talk With A Strong Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Today

At Scott M. Brown & Associates, we may be able to successfully argue that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion.

If the officer sees you in your car, but you’re not in the passenger seat, that may suggest someone else was driving.

If your car’s equipment was fine and you were obeying the traffic laws, then the officer likely did not have reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigation.

Please call us at 979-849-8526 to talk with an experienced DWI/DUI attorney. We have offices in Angleton, Pearland, and League City.

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