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Does reasonable suspicion apply to drunk driving stops?

On Behalf of | Aug 16, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law

Persons that drive under the influence present a danger to others and themselves. Police in Massachusetts may keep their eyes out for drivers who appear intoxicated, and pulling over drivers to conduct sobriety checks is not uncommon. Since “reasonable suspicion” serves as the basis for pulling a vehicle over, the police can act quickly. Reasonable suspicion comes with a lower bar than probable cause.

Reasonable suspicion and drunk driving arrests

Reasonable suspicion has a much lower standard than probable cause. With reasonable suspicion, a police officer could look at specific facts to determine whether a crime occurs. So, if someone doesn’t come to a complete stop at a stop sign and drives erratically, an officer could pull the vehicle over for those two moving violations. The officer may suspect someone is under the influence and request the driver to perform a field sobriety test.

Now, if the officer sees an open container of alcohol or smells marijuana, the officer would likely have probable cause. Without clear evidence of alcohol or drug use, the officer may use the “facts” of poor driving behavior combined with a driver’s slurred speech to perform the sobriety test.

Challenging reasonable suspicion

What happens when the police pull a vehicle over even when the driver did not commit a moving violation? Ultimately, if nothing supported probable cause or even reasonable suspicion, questions arise about the drunk driving traffic stop’s legality.

The United States Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protects people from illegal searches, seizures, and arrests. The police cannot “hassle” a driver for no reason. When a traffic stop and subsequent arrest violates the Fourth Amendment, the accused could seek to have evidence suppressed and charges dismissed. The judge might rule in the defendant’s favor when no valid reasonable suspicion appears to exist.