In Part 1 we already talked about reasonable suspicion in regards to drunk driving. Reasonable suspicion refers to the reason an officer has for believing a motorist may be intoxicated. This is what lets the officer investigate further. After reasonable suspicion is probable cause. Probable cause is the sum of evidence that gives law enforcement enough grounds to arrest or charge someone. Let’s look closer at probable cause in relation to DUI and DWI in Minnesota.
Probable Cause is needed because of the protections offered by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment gives people the right of security against unreasonable warrants, and this protects a person, their property and their belongings. A warrant for searching and seizing property or arresting someone cannot be issued unless probable cause exists.
In many cases, an affidavit is compiled and signed by a judge and then executed. This typically doesn’t occur with DWI charges. However, probable cause must still be verified after an arrest and when prosecuting someone.
Warrants don’t need to be issued beforehand in cases where an officer witnesses a crime, which relates to drunk driving cases. An officer instead needs reasonable suspicion to think a motorist may be intoxicated.
What if an officer did not have probable cause to arrest someone? If the standard of probable cause isn’t met by law enforcement, then evidence might be thrown out or a case could be dismissed. This applies even if a driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Meeting Probable Cause
What is the standard for probable cause? An officer has met their probable cause requirement when they have enough information to make any reasonable person conclude a crime occurred or will occur. This means an officer can’t arrest someone because of something like a “gut feeling”. While a seasoned officer might have enough experience to accurately gauge when someone is driving drunk even if little evidence exists, there must still be enough facts to prove this beyond one officer’s perspective.
There are some gray areas that are more likely to occur in cases of drunk driving. For example, an officer might notice a car swerving between lanes and have enough reasonable suspicion to pull a driver over. When questioning this driver, the officer detects the odor of alcohol on the driver’s breath. When asked to submit to a roadside portable breath test, the driver refuses. In this case, an officer may have enough suspicion to think a driver is intoxicated but whether s/he has enough proof for an arrest depends on the totality of the circumstances (i.e., legal standard for looking at all the facts surrounding the incident). So what happens next?
It is also worth noting that if an officer has probable cause to arrest for DWI, Minnesota’s implied consent rules trigger penalties that may be imposed for refusing a chemical or breath test even when sober or within the legal BAC limit.
An officer might ask for other testing like field sobriety tests. This may lead to more suspicion, but these tests are hardly scientifically accurate. Even those who are sober sometimes have trouble performing these tests. There may not be enough for an arrest. In this and other cases, an officer might detain someone without arresting them. If the person does not allow for breath or blood testing, they may be detained while law enforcement gets a warrant. While not enough to arrest someone, this evidence would likely be enough to convince a judge more investigation is required.
Do police need probable cause to detain someone? No. Only reasonable suspicion is needed for this. Things may be become tricky if it’s not clear at what point someone goes from being detained to being arrested. Some action should occur that signals an arrest like having one’s rights read or a person being restrained. When this happens, probable cause is needed. If officers did not yet have probable cause, the arrest may have been premature. Assessing a situation for what officers had the right to do and when compared to what actually occurred might be a lawyer’s first course of action when defending someone against DUI charges.
For more information about DUI/DWI charges, contact us today.