If an officer stops you for driving under the influence of alcohol, he or she may put you through a series of sobriety tests before making the arrest. Some officers, however, choose to rely upon probable cause instead. Probable cause in this instance amounts to information the arresting officer gleans from your actions, behaviors, or comments that lead him or her to believe you are impaired. While this so-called evidence may not rise to the court’s standards, the bar is relatively low when it comes to making arrests.
Three Primary Signs of Intoxication
The signs considered indicative of intoxication that arresting officers often rely upon include:
- The smell of alcohol
- Bloodshot eyes
- Slurred speech
While these can be associated with drinking, they can also be caused by allergies, exhaustion, and being around people who are drinking. In other words, this brand of probable cause is far from robust.
The Smell of Alcohol
Having a glass of wine with dinner may leave you smelling like alcohol, but it is doubtful to put you over the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Further, merely being in a restaurant or bar with friends can leave you with the smell of alcohol without you touching a drop.
Some people’s eyes become bloodshot when they drink, but plenty of others’ do not. Bloodshot eyes are just as likely to indicate hay fever, allergies, or lack of sleep than they are to signal a drunk driver.
Again, while slurred speech is commonly associated with overindulgence, many people who are under the influence of alcohol experience no such effect. Further, the officer has no way of knowing if your speech pattern at the time of your arrest is different from your regular speech pattern. Ultimately, the determination of slurred speech tends to be highly subjective.
Stopping You Is an Infringement of Your Rights
The officer in question needs probable cause to stop you in the first place. In other words, he or she cannot stop you based purely on a hunch that you might be impaired. For example, lawfully driving out of a bar parking lot does not amount to probable cause. For an officer to pull you over, he or she must have a reason for doing so, such as witnessing you drive recklessly, speed, or break any other rule of the road. In order to lawfully stop you on the road, an officer needs probable cause. Equipped with probable cause, an officer in addition to stopping you can lawfully conduct all of the following:
- Administering a blood or breath test
- Searching your vehicle
- Arresting you for DWI
If probable cause is in question, it can amount to a strong defense.