If you are like most people here in Florida and elsewhere, you probably assume that law enforcement officers need probable cause to initiate a traffic stop. However, in reality, they only need a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity took place.
Initiating a traffic stop allows an officer to detain you -- briefly -- in order to conduct a limited investigation to confirm or deny those the suspicion that led to the stop. You should know that the officer cannot make an arrest based on reasonable suspicion. An arrest requires probable cause, which is a higher threshold.
What constitutes reasonable suspicion?
The following driving behaviors could constitute reasonable suspicion to pull you over:
- Were you driving too slow or erratically?
- Did you stop in the middle of the road for no reason?
- Did you straddle the center line?
- Were you braking frequently?
- Did you make an illegal turn?
- Did you come close to hitting a curb or parked car?
- Did you drift out of your lane into another?
These are only some of the actions that give rise to a traffic stop. Once pulled over, the officer may suspect you of driving under the influence. At this point, he or she may ask you to participate in a roadside breath test and/or field sobriety tests. The officer conducts these tests in order to establish probable cause for an arrest. Reasonable suspicion may also exist if you were involved in a car accident or passed out in your car.
One of the first questions you need to ask after a DUI arrest is whether the officer actually established reasonable suspicion to pull you over. If the officer doesn't pass this test, then the arrest may not stand. If the officer does pass this test, the next question concerns whether probable cause existed for the arrest.
What constitutes probable cause?
Unlike reasonable suspicion, probable cause holds the officer to a higher burden of proof. Field sobriety tests and roadside breath tests help establish probable cause. As an aside, you should know that you do not have to participate in these tests, and thus not provide the officer with this type of evidence for your arrest. Once at the station, you must participate in chemical testing in order to comply with Florida's implied consent laws.
Other alleged evidence could provide the officer with probable cause such as slurred speech, the smell of alcohol on your breath, the presence of a container of alcohol in your vehicle and more. For this reason, you may still end up under arrest. At this point, you would benefit from finding out your rights and legal options for dealing with this situation and reaching the best outcome possible.