One of the major rules affecting Florida DUI cases is that a law enforcement officer must have probable cause to make a stop. However, questions may arise as to whether a particular set of circumstances amounted to probable cause.
Generally, for the purposes of criminal charges, probable cause means the facts led to a reasonable belief the person who was stopped committed or was in the process of committing a crime.
Reasonable Belief Driver Is Committing a DUI
Thus, in the context of drunk or drugged driving, police officers must have a reasonable belief the driver was impaired when making the stop. This is different from believing the driver consumed alcohol, because doing so is not necessarily illegal. Police officers must actually have reason to believe the driver suffered actual impairment or that the amount of alcohol exceeded the legal amount.
Behaviors that May Lead to Probable Cause
Common behaviors that tend to constitute probable cause for a DUI stop include breaking traffic rules, ignoring signals, driving erratically, weaving through traffic, failing to react appropriately to changes in traffic, recklessness and aggression.
A common scenario for a DUI stop is when an officer sees a driver behaving in a way that suggests impairment and then stops him or her. Alternatively, the officer may be responding to a traffic accident and in the course of investigation, notices facts indicating impairment, such as visible intoxication.
What Probable Cause Allows and Does Not Allow
Probable cause gives a police officer the right to make the stop and pursue further investigation, such as chemical testing. Probable cause for DUI is not necessarily probable cause for other crimes such as possession of illegal drugs. Even in a justified stop, the officer may not have the right to search your car without a warrant or your consent. Generally, you should not consent; if the officer conducts an improper search, the results may not be admissible as evidence later on.
If an officer conducts a stop without probable cause, any evidence gathered during the course of the improper stop may be inadmissible. Consulting a lawyer promptly can give you the best chance at an effective defense.