Probable Cause for DUI Arrest in California

December 7, 2016

Probable Cause and DUI Arrest

In this article, Los Angeles DUI Defense Lawyer discusses Reasonable Suspicion to Stop a Car and Probable Cause for a DUI Arrest. Click on the links below to go directly to your topic of interest.

What is Probable Cause

Probable cause is the reason founded on recognized facts to think a crime has been perpetrated or that specific property is related to a crime. It needs to exist for a police officer to make a warrantless arrest, a warrantless search, or confiscate property in the belief it is proof of a crime. A probable cause or reasonable suspicion must exist before the stop, arrest, search or seizure.
To show reasonable suspicion or probable cause, police need to articulate why they think you committed a crime.  It can not be just a hunch (Terry v. Ohio).  But the crime can be minor and can be an infraction (traffic violation)

Reasonable Suspicion to Pull You Over

To pull over a driver for DUI, law enforcement or California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer needs to have “reasonable suspicion” that a crime is or was occurring.  Reasonable suspicion is similar to “probable cause”.   U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment forbids unwarranted searches and seizures.  Police cannot stop your car for no reason.  Rather, he or she needs to be able to identify certain facts that caused him or her to conclude that crime, including DUI, was occurring.

This does not mean that the officer needs to know that the driver is DUI. Any traffic violation — speeding or a broken taillight is enough for a traffic stop.  If the officer can justify a reason for a traffic stop, reasonable suspicion is there.  The next step of analysis is the probable cause – officer needs a warrant for evidence or an exception to a warrant.  The most common exception for the warrant requirement is consent.  That’s right, most people agree to be investigated and voluntary provide officers with the evidence of their crime.  There would be a lot less DUI’s if no one agreed to do field sobriety test or preliminary alcohol screening tests.

Probable Cause for DUI Arrest

After you are stopped (remember there must be reasonable suspicion for a stop), the police must have probable cause to start a DUI investigation.  The smell of alcohol is often enough.  If an officer investigates you, then the chances are, you are getting arrested.  Most of the field sobriety tests are subjective and many officers will just look for a reason to arrest you.  During the investigation, the officer is likely to do the following:

  • Question you about your biographical information;
  • Question you about where you coming from and where are you going;
  • Question you about the amount you had to drink and to eat;
  • Question you about any illnesses that can affect your driving;
  • Question you if you are epileptic, diabetic, etc;
  • Question if you are prescribed any medications;
  • Do field sobriety tests (FST), such as:
    • One Leg Stand;
    • Walk and Turn Test;
    • Rhomberg Balance;
    • Finger to Nose Test;
  • Do a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test with a handheld breathalyzer.

With every step of the DUI investigation—namely, the stop, then the detention/investigation, and then the arrest—comes a more elevated criterion for probable cause/reasonable suspicion.  While it might be easy for a police officer to meet the reasonable suspicion criterion to stop your car, the level of proof to keep you in custody and investigate you for a DUI is a lot higher.  For example, to arrest you for a DUI, the police need to give detailed articulable information that would result in a reasonable officer suspecting that you are violating California DUI laws.  The officer’s belief can not subjective – he must objectively have reasons for a DUI investigation.

 The Difference Between A Probable Cause and A Reasonable Suspicion

To stop a car, the police need reasonable suspicion.  To search you or your car, the police need probable cause.  This is because the expectation of privacy is less in the car. 

Probable cause is “whether, given all the circumstances …., there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.” (Illinois v. Gates (1983) 462 U.S. 213).

Reasonable suspicion is a sensible supposition that a crime has been, is being, or will be perpetrated. It is a sensible certainty based on information or situations and is notified by the training and experience of a law enforcement officer. Reasonable suspicion is viewed as more than a supposition or instinct but less than probable cause.

The distinction between the two words is that probable cause indicates there is actual evidence of a crime while reasonable suspicion is susceptible to extensive clarification. Reasonable suspicion specifies that it seems that a crime has been perpetrated. The expression is frequently utilized to validate investigation into dubious conduct when a crime might have been perpetrated.

What Can I Do If I Was Stopped or Arrested for DUI Without Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause?

If your California DUI defense lawyer thinks that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause, he or she will request to suppress the unlawfully acquired evidence by filing a California Penal Code Section 1538.5 motion to suppress. A motion to suppress is grounded on a lawful standard that is often reaching an analysis known as the “fruit of the poisonous tree”.  Any evidence received because of an unlawful procedure—a traffic stop, a DUI investigation or arrest—will be suppressed. When a judge suppresses evidence, it can not be used against you and many times cause a dismissal because the prosecutor will not be able to proceed with a prosecution without evidence of the crime.

A PC 1538.5 motion to suppress will result in a hearing that is called a “suppression, probable cause, or PC 1538.5 hearing.” If your California DUI defense lawyer can persuade the judge at this hearing probable cause did not exist either the stop, investigation/detention, or arrest, your DUI charges can be dismissed or reduced to another charge.

Los Angeles DUI Attorney

If you have any questions about your case, call Drunk Driving Defense Attorney directly. You will get a FREE DUI case review!

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