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DUI Reasonable Suspicion in Minnesota: PART 1

Minnesota is one state that deems DUI checkpoints unconstitutional, but police officers can still pull over drivers who they suspect are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Here is what you need to know about reasonable suspicion.

When an officer sees possible evidence of a crime, they can pull over a motorist and talk with them for a short period of time. During this time, the officer might gather enough information to let the person go or conduct a more thorough investigation. There are many behaviors that might make an officer think a driver is impaired.

Reasonable Suspicion

This may include erratic driving behavior like frequent braking, driving especially slow, weaving in and out of lanes or drifting between lanes, illegal turns, sudden stops and more. This is somewhat subjective. One officer might find some behavior suspicious while another does not. There are many reasons that might be acceptable for stopping a driver. The most important point is just that an officer does have a reason for stopping a driver. Even if a driver is intoxicated, a case could be thrown out if an officer did not have a reason for pulling a driver over.

Let’s look at some examples.

Scenario A: A vehicle is parked on the street, and a person is slumped over the steering wheel asleep. There are beer bottles in the vehicle.

Does an officer have valid cause to question this driver? Yes, there are incidences where an officer might have reason to suspect drunk driving even when a motorist isn’t driving. This is one possible scenario, and an officer also has cause when responding to a car accident.

Scenario B: A motorist is pulled over for not having their headlights on at night. This driver is asked to submit to breath testing.

Does an officer have valid cause for this? No. Anyone could forget to turn their headlights on, and there is no reason to suspect this person is impaired. However, let’s say the officer observes slurred speech and bloodshot eyes and a few other indicators of intoxication when pulling the driver over. This could provide reason to ask for breath testing.

An officer must have reasonable suspicion to pull a driver over, but the reason might not be related to drunk driving. If an officer then notices behavior that points to impairment, it’s alright to investigate this even if it wasn’t the original purpose of detaining a motorist.

Scenario C: A car driving in a residential neighborhood almost takes out several mailboxes and swerves dramatically to avoid each impact.

Does an officer have valid cause to pull this driver over? Yes, as the vehicle nearly hit stationary objects and or other vehicles on the road, an officer may want to stop the driver and ensure everything is alright.

What if the officer stops this driver and asks for chemical or breath testing? Does an officer have valid cause for this? No. The officer had reason to pull the driver over and conduct a short interview but the officer must have additional cause to expand the scope of the stop and conduct sobriety testing.

Probable Cause

Reasonable suspicion comes before probable cause. When making an arrest for a DUI, an officer needs probable c

ause. This means an officer has enough evidence to conclude that a crime has most likely occurred. Breath tests, blood tests and sobriety testing might be involved.

Let’s compare:

Reasonable Suspicion – A crime may have occurred.

Probable Cause – A crime most likely occurred.

When Facing Charges

If probable cause means that an officer has enough proof to decide a driver is likely inebriated, does this mean one has to plead guilty to any drunk driving charges? No. This determination can be subjective, and issues with reasonable suspicion and probable cause are only one area a defense attorney might question when fighting charges. For more information about your options when charged with a DUI in Minnesota, contact us today.

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