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What Qualifies as “Reasonable Suspicion” for a DUI?

Watkins Law Firm LLC Feb. 13, 2024

Police Car Lights in Night City with Selective FocusWhen flashing blue lights appear in your rearview mirror, it's crucial to know the difference between a routine traffic stop and one that escalates due to 'reasonable suspicion' of DUI.

This standard allows officers to investigate further based on specific and articulable facts. Understanding reasonable suspicion empowers you with knowledge to know your rights during DUI stops. 

As your criminal defense attorney at Watkins Law Firm LLC based in Boulder, Colorado, I am prepared to support you if you're facing a DUI charge and fight for your rights. Serving the surrounding areas of Longmont, Louisville, Lafayette, and Broomfield, you can trust that I am here for you; if you're in need of a representation in DMV hearings, don't hesitate to reach out to me today for a free consultation.  

Understanding DUI 

Driving Under the Influence, commonly known as DUI, is a major offense. It happens when someone operates a vehicle while their abilities are impaired by alcohol or drugs. In our home state of Colorado, the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) stands at 0.08%. If your BAC crosses this threshold, you're likely to face a DUI charge. However, even with a BAC below this limit, you could still be arrested if the officer perceives impairment based on other factors.  

What Is Reasonable Suspicion? 

Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard that empowers law enforcement officers to momentarily detain a person if they have specific facts that make them believe the person is involved in criminal activity. When it comes to a DUI, reasonable suspicion refers to an officer's belief that a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This belief must be grounded in observable behaviors or evidence that suggests impairment. 

How Does Reasonable Suspicion Apply to DUI Cases? 

Reasonable suspicion is the trigger that allows a police officer to initiate a traffic stop. The officer must harbor a reasonable suspicion that the driver is impaired before they can pull them over. It's important to remember that the officer's suspicion should be reasonable and backed by objective evidence. This suspicion could stem from various factors, such as:  

  • Swerving or drifting between lanes, indicating a lack of vehicle control. 

  • Excessive braking or accelerating without apparent cause. 

  • Delayed responses to traffic signals, suggesting slower reaction times. 

  • Driving without headlights at night, indicating potential disorientation. 

  • Striking or almost hitting objects or other vehicles on the road. 

  • The odor of alcohol, emanating from the driver or inside the vehicle. 

  • Slurred speech or inability to comprehend law enforcement instructions. 

  • Visible signs of intoxication, such as bloodshot eyes or unsteady movements. 

The level of probable cause required for an officer to pull someone over for a DUI is based on the totality of the circumstances and must meet the reasonable suspicion standard. 

The Role of Field Sobriety Tests 

Field sobriety tests (FSTs) are often used by law enforcement officers to collect evidence of impairment during a DUI stop.

These tests include the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, walk-and-turn test, and one-leg stand test. The results of these tests, coupled with other observations made by the officer, can contribute to establishing reasonable suspicion for a DUI arrest.

However, it's worth noting that FSTs aren't foolproof and can be influenced by various factors like medical conditions or environmental elements. 

Consequences if There's No Reasonable Suspicion 

If a traffic stop is initiated without reasonable suspicion, any evidence gathered during that stop may be considered inadmissible in court. This means if there was no valid reasonable suspicion for the stop, any evidence of impairment, such as breathalyzer results or statements made by the driver, may not be used against them in a DUI case.

Thus, it's crucial to consult with a skilled criminal defense attorney to determine if the traffic stop was conducted lawfully and if any evidence can be suppressed. 

Protecting Your Rights 

If you're pulled over and arrested for a DUI, it's essential to safeguard your rights throughout the legal process.

Remember, you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Exercise these rights and avoid making self-incriminating statements.

Moreover, document the details of the traffic stop, including the officer's behavior and any potential violations of your rights.

Connecting with an experienced DUI defense attorney who can review your case, challenge the legality of the traffic stop if necessary, and advocate for your rights in court is crucial. 

You Have Rights — Use Them 

In conclusion, understanding what constitutes "reasonable suspicion" for a DUI is vital if you're facing a DUI charge or want to protect your rights during a traffic stop. Knowledge is power, and being aware of your rights can make all the difference in your case. If you have any questions or need help with a DUI case, don't hesitate to reach out to my firm I'm here to help.