Reasonable suspicion is crucial when law enforcement handles potential drunk driving cases. This standard allows officers to make an initial stop if they reasonably believe a driver is under the influence. The signs they notice must be ones that any reasonable person would think signal that a driver is too impaired to drive safely.
Unlike probable cause, which requires more concrete evidence for an arrest, reasonable suspicion is a lower standard based solely on the officer’s observations and experience.
Signs that can lead to reasonable suspicion
In drunk driving cases, an officer’s observation of certain behaviors or signs that indicate possible impairment can justify stopping a driver. Some points that meet the standard of reasonable suspicion include:
- Erratic or inconsistent driving: Swerving, drifting across lanes or straddling the center line
- Violation of traffic laws: Speeding, running red lights or stop signs or making illegal turns can indicate impairment
- Slow response to traffic signals: Delayed reactions to traffic lights or signals can indicate impaired driving
- Inappropriate speed: Driving significantly below the speed limit or varying speed abruptly.
Once a vehicle is stopped based on reasonable suspicion, officers may conduct field sobriety tests or use chemical tests to determine the driver’s level of impairment. These results can establish probable cause, which is required for an arrest.
Because reasonable suspicion is subjective and based on the officer’s training and experience, the validity of the stop can be a point of contention in drunk driving cases. Defendants should have sound legal guidance to develop their defense strategy. This may include a lack of reasonable suspicion or probable cause and other rights violations.