Hunches Are Not Reasonable Suspicion in DWI Stops
All arrests for driving while intoxicated must start with the police officer establishing reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle. Accepted reasons to stop a driver include traffic violations or erratic driving behavior. However, officers will sometimes stop drivers on nothing more than a hunch that they are committing a DWI offense. Traffic stops based on hunches are illegal, even if the hunch ends up being correct. Any evidence that came after that illegal stop would be suppressed in court, effectively ending the prosecution’s case. There are several ways that an officer may use a hunch instead of reasonable suspicion to initiate a DWI stop:
- Targeting Bar and Restaurant Patrons: Many drunk drivers became intoxicated because they were at a public establishment that serves alcohol. Police officers know that there is a greater risk of DWI incidents near bars and restaurants, but they cannot stop a driver simply because they were leaving such an establishment. The driver must show signs of impairment that create reasonable suspicion that they may be intoxicated. Stopping the driver prematurely would be targeting a driver based on a presumption of guilt.
- Unidentified Container: Having an open container of alcohol in a vehicle is both against the law and evidence of a possible DWI incident. However, an officer may be unable to justify a stop based solely on what they guess could be an alcoholic beverage container in the vehicle. It is difficult to identify the label or contents of a container from a distance. Non-alcoholic beverages come in many of the same cans and bottles as alcohol. The officer would need to pair their observation of a possible alcohol container in the vehicle with other evidence that creates suspicion of intoxication.
- Not Accounting for Adverse Driving Conditions: Intoxicated drivers can draw suspicion from police officers by driving too slowly or swerving. This behavior suggests possible impairment under normal circumstances, but adverse driving conditions can also be a reasonable explanation. For instance, there is a difference between driving slowly on a clear night and during heavy rainfall. With visibility decreased and the road slick, driving below the speed limit could be the responsible decision given the conditions. It should be a more likely explanation for the officer than suspecting that the driver is intoxicated.
Contact a San Antonio DWI Defense Attorney
Too many police officers and prosecutors believe that the resulting evidence of DWI justifies a traffic stop without reasonable suspicion. A San Antonio DWI defense lawyer at the Law Offices of Sam H. Lock can get your DWI charges dismissed if they were based on an illegal stop. Schedule a free consultation by calling 888-726-5625.