When you saw those flashing lights in your rearview mirror, you probably had a bit of a panic attack just like most people would. You pulled over and prepared to ask the officer what you did wrong, but first, you put some gum in your mouth and wondered if the officer would notice that you had a couple of drinks with dinner.
Law enforcement officers can only stop your vehicle if reasonable suspicion exists that you committed a crime or are committing a crime. But what does that mean?
What constitutes reasonable suspicion for drunk driving?
In order to initiate a traffic stop where impairment is suspected, officers look for the following common drunk driving behaviors that may establish reasonable suspicion:
- Stopping in the middle of the road without an obvious reason
- Straddling the center line
- Braking frequently
- Making an illegal turn
- Driving erratically or extremely slow
- Drifting from one lane into another
- Nearly running into objects on the road or other vehicles
These are only common behaviors that could help an officer establish reasonable suspicion to pull you over. An officer may have another reason to do so. However, if the evidence proves the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop, then anything that follows may not make it into court.
Reasonable suspicion only substantiates the stop
You should know that reasonable suspicion is not enough to arrest you for drunk driving. It only allows the officer to stop your vehicle. In order to make an arrest, the officer must have probable cause. This is a higher threshold of evidence. At this point, the officer may ask you to perform field sobriety tests and submit to a roadside breath test.
Participating in these tests will more than likely not be in your best interests. Many sober people cannot pass field sobriety tests and many factors can influence whether you pass or fail them. Roadside breath testing machines are notoriously unreliable and often not even admissible in court. You are under no legal obligation to participate in these tests. If you do, you only give the officer the probable cause he or she needs to make an arrest.
The officer may still arrest you
Even if you decline to participate in roadside testing, the officer may still arrest you believing that he or she has enough probable cause based on other factors such as bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and more, including the driving behavior that led to the stop. However, you did not give the officer any further ammunition to substantiate the arrest.
Once you are at the police station or jail, refusing to participate in a breath test could have legal ramifications, such as the suspension of your license. Regardless, you have the right to challenge any charges you may face, which usually starts by scrutinizing the traffic stop to determine whether the officer had a reasonable suspicion to make the stop.