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What Qualifies as “Reasonable Suspicion” for a DUI? 

Rodrick A. Rouse, Attorney at Law  Feb. 9, 2024

Male Driver Being Stopped By Female Traffic Police OfficerUnderstanding your rights during a DUI stop is of utmost importance, especially when it comes to the concept of "reasonable suspicion."

This principle plays a significant role in determining whether law enforcement has the authority to initiate a stop and investigation for suspected driving under the influence (DUI). The more you understand about this principle, the better equipped you'll be to protect your rights. 

Common Indicators

Reasonable suspicion revolves around the belief that a crime is being, has been, or is about to be committed. In the context of a DUI, law enforcement officers must have reasonable suspicion to pull a driver over. Common driving-behavior indicators that could lead to reasonable suspicion include, but are not limited to: 

  • Consistently making excessively wide turns. 

  • Drifting or swerving abruptly between lanes. 

  • Straddling the centerline of the road or lane markers. 

  • Following other vehicles too closely, posing a risk of collision. 

  • Braking erratically without apparent cause. 

  • Driving significantly below the speed limit, suggesting impairment. 

  • Stopping in the road for no discernible reason. 

These instances represent observable signs that may give rise to reasonable suspicion, allowing the officer to conduct a traffic stop under the suspicion of DUI. It's important to note that this list is not exhaustive, and officers will assess the situation based on the totality of observable evidence. 

What Doesn't Constitute Reasonable Suspicion

Not every instance of unusual driving behavior can be classified as reasonable suspicion. For instance, a minor traffic violation like a broken tail light doesn't necessarily indicate impairment. Similarly, driving slowly or being overly cautious isn't evidence enough to warrant a DUI stop. 

The Role of Sobriety Checkpoints

Sobriety checkpoints, also known as DUI checkpoints, serve as a proactive measure in the enforcement of DUI laws.

Legally established in many jurisdictions, these checkpoints function under the assumption that they deter drunk driving by increasing the perceived risk of apprehension. Officers position the checkpoints at strategic locations based on statistical data of DUI incidents and stop vehicles in a predetermined sequence, such as every third vehicle, to avoid accusations of profiling or discrimination.

During these stops, law enforcement evaluates drivers for signs of impairment, such as alcohol odor, slurred speech, or visible intoxication.  

While effective in their purpose, sobriety checkpoints must adhere to strict legal guidelines, including public notice and non-discriminatory stopping patterns, to protect individuals' constitutional rights and ensure the legality of the stops. 

Your Rights During a DUI Stop

At a DUI stop, individuals retain a set of rights to protect themselves and preserve the integrity of any forthcoming legal proceedings. These rights include, but are not limited to: 

  • The Right to Remain Silent: You’re under no obligation to answer questions like where you're coming from, where you’re going, or whether you’ve had anything to drink. Any statements you make can be used against you in court. 

  • The Right to Refuse Field Sobriety Tests: Drivers may decline field sobriety tests such as walking in a straight line or standing on one leg. These tests are subjective and the results can be incriminating. 

  • The Right to Refuse a Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) Test: If not on probation for a previous DUI or under the legal drinking age, you may refuse a PAS —a roadside breathalyzer test— without penalties. 

  • The Right to Know Why You’re Being Stopped: Officers must have a reason or reasonable suspicion to pull you over, and you have the right to ask what that reason is. 

  • The Right to Refuse a Search of Your Vehicle: Without your consent, probable cause, or a warrant, officers cannot search your vehicle. However, if you are arrested, your car may be impounded and searched. 

  • The Right to Legal Counsel: Upon arrest, you have the right to consult an attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can provide guidance and help you understand the charges against you. 

Documenting the DUI stop and any interactions with law enforcement can also be crucial if you choose to challenge the legality of the stop or argue the accuracy of any evidence gathered against you. It’s advisable to contact an experienced DUI attorney immediately if you’re facing charges. 

Legal Recourses if Wrongfully Stopped or Arrested for DUI

Understanding "reasonable suspicion" in the context of a DUI is a pivotal aspect of knowing your rights and potential defenses. If you believe you were wrongfully stopped or arrested for a DUI, you may have legal recourse. An experienced attorney can help assess your situation and potentially challenge the validity of the stop or arrest.

Rodrick A. Rouse, Attorney at Law, located in Greensboro, North Carolina, is dedicated to providing clients with the legal guidance they need during such challenging times.

Serving clients throughout Guilford County, Randolph County, Forsyth County, Alamance County, and Davidson County, the firm offers unwavering dedication to those facing DUI charges.