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What’s “reasonable suspicion” for a DUI stop?

On Behalf of | Aug 18, 2023 | Criminal Law |

There are varying degrees of proof required for a law enforcement officer to take action and intrude upon a citizen’s right to privacy and free agency. The least stringent of these is “reasonable suspicion.”

Reasonable suspicion is the standard of proof that officers have to meet to initiate a traffic stop when they believe that a driver may be operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It’s important to understand, however, that a low standard of proof isn’t the same as no standard of proof.

How is reasonable suspicion different than a hunch?

A “hunch” is just a guess or a vague inkling without anything concrete behind it. Reasonable suspicion requires something a little bit more objective.

For example, imagine this scenario: An officer has their cruiser parked behind a bar and they watch a patron come out, walk to their car, open it and drive away. Although they don’t stumble on their way to their vehicle, don’t struggle to get the car open and make no traffic errors, the officer decides to pull the driver over simply because they were coming from a bar and might have been drinking.

That probably wouldn’t pass muster as reasonable suspicion if the driver fought the issue in court because the officer has no way of knowing whether the driver worked at the bar, was just stopping in to talk with someone, was someone’s designated driver or only had a burger and a Coke while they were there.

On the other hand, if the driver stumbled to their vehicle, dropped their keys trying to get in and ran a stop sign pulling out of the parking lot, that would likely give the officer reasonable suspicion that they’re impaired.

If you’ve been charged with drunk driving, don’t assume that your case is hopeless. Learning more about the defenses available can help you better understand your legal options.

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