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.
Police suspicion that you may be driving while intoxicated can start from the moment you are pulled over. Erratic driving suggests to them that you might be impaired, and the time of night and proximity to drinking establishments may further their suspicions. However, suspicions and police intuition about your driving are not enough reason to immediately demand a sobriety test or arrest you for DWI. The officer will observe your appearance and behavior to determine whether there is probable cause for an arrest.
Officers are familiar with the visual cues that a driver may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, such as:
Bloodshot or watery eyes;
An odor of alcohol or drugs; and
An unkempt appearance.
A combination of any of these symptoms will raise suspicion, but each one could have an explanation that is unrelated to alcohol or drugs. You may be sweating or have bloodshot eyes if you are sick or tired. While being sick or tired can impair your driving ability, the consequences are not the same as being under the influence of an intoxicating substance. The smell of alcohol or drugs is more difficult to explain. It is possible that the odor could be coming from a current or recent passenger who was drinking or using drugs.
Texas Department of Public Safety troopers made 400 arrests for suspicion of driving while intoxicated during the Christmas and New Year’s weekends last year. Local and state law enforcement always anticipate an increase in DWI incidents during holidays, but prosecutors believe there may be even more arrests than normal because of the day of the week that New Year’s Day falls on. Having the weekend followed by New Year’s Eve on Monday and New Year’s Day on Tuesday could mean a long weekend of drinking leading up to the holiday.
How Police Prepare
Local police departments often use public information campaigns to educate people about the dangers of drunk driving and the potential consequences if you are caught. For a major holiday, they prepare for an increased number of drunk drivers by increasing their own enforcement efforts:
More police officers are on patrol, watching for drunk drivers on roads they are most likely to use;
More prosecutors are available to advise officers on whether there is probable cause to make a DWI arrest;
More judges are on call to issue blood warrants, which require you to submit to a blood alcohol concentration test; and
More nurses are available to draw blood samples to be tested.
Law enforcement sometimes sets up DWI checkpoints, where officers stop all drivers to check for signs of intoxication. However, Texas has not authorized DWI checkpoints because they subject drivers to a search without establishing reasonable suspicion of committing a crime.
A police officer must have a reasonable suspicion that a driver has committed an offense in order to legally stop the driver. For cases of driving while intoxicated, the officer usually must witness driver behavior that suggests that the driver is impaired. A 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling set a precedent that an officer can stop a vehicle based on an anonymous tip, even if the officer does not witness the alleged behavior. If your DWI arrest stemmed from an anonymous tip, your defense can question the credibility of the tip and argue that it did not create enough reasonable suspicion to allow the officer to legally stop you. Your defense will ask several questions about the nature of the anonymous tip:
How Detailed Was the Tip?: A witness providing a credible tip about a drunk driver should say more than “I saw a drunk driver.” Did the anonymous source describe why he or she thought the driver was drunk? Was the source personally affected by the driver’s behavior? Did the source sound coherent when giving the explanation? The prosecution has a heavy burden to prove the credibility of the tip because it cannot prove the source’s personal credibility.
Did the Information Create a Reasonable Suspicion?: An anonymous source is likely a private citizen who is not trained to judge whether a driver may be impaired. Some driving mistakes do not reach the level of impaired driving, but the witness still reports it as suspicious activity. The witness may have seen a supposedly intoxicated person walking towards his or her car without seeing that person actually get in the vehicle and drive away.
How Was the Tip Reported?: Courts find an anonymous tip to be more credible if the person giving the tip believes that he or she may not remain anonymous. A person is unlikely to make a false report by calling 911 because the operator can trace the call. However, that idea assumes that the person knows that emergency responders have caller ID. The defense will question the credibility of any witness who did not wish to identify him or herself to the police.
Is There a Transcript of the Conversation?: A recorded call of the anonymous tip provides a clear record of what the witness said. The defense can analyze the recording for inconsistencies or evidence that the tip was not credible. Without a recording, the prosecution relies on the testimony of the person who received the tip. The defense can question that person’s memory of what the anonymous source said and how the person interpreted that information.
Police officers will use unreliable anonymous tips to stop drivers for suspicion of DWI. A San Antonio DWI defense attorney at the Law Offices of Sam H. Lock can dismantle the prosecution’s case by proving that the initial traffic stop was illegal. To schedule a free consultation, call 888-726-5625.
Police officers know the times when and places where people are most likely to commit a driving while intoxicated offense. Thus, police cars are often parked near bars and entertainment venues late at night, looking for drivers who show signs of impairment. This may seem unfair if you are one of the unfortunate people pulled over. Some defendants wonder whether this form of targeting qualifies as entrapment. However, it is rare to be able to prove that a police officer is guilty of entrapment in a DWI case. Claiming that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to pull you over is a more successful defensive strategy.
The legal definition of entrapment is when a police officer induces a defendant to commit a criminal offense which the defendant would not have otherwise committed. An officer watching for drunk drivers near a place where people have been drinking does not qualify as entrapment because the officer is not inducing the driver to:
The Law Offices of Sam H. Lock, with offices in San Antonio and Seguin, Texas, provides criminal defense representation for people charged with state and federal crimes throughout Texas and the United States, including San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, Midland, Pecos, Waco, Hondo, New Braunfels, Laredo, Kerrville, San Marcos, Boerne, and Del Rio, Bexar County, Guadalupe County, Comal County, Wilson County, Gonzales County, Kendall County, Bandera County, Caldwell County, Hays County, Travis County, Medina County, Blanco County, Burnet County, Atascosa County, Live Oak County, Nueces County, Uvalde County.