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DUI Probable Cause

To initiate a Fort Lauderdale DUI arrest, a law enforcement officer must have probable cause to believe the motorist was under the influence of either alcohol or controlled substances to the extent his/ her normal faculties were impaired.

If the probable cause conclusion was founded on evidence that was insufficient or the conclusion was not reasonable, the driver’s arrest could be illegal, which means any evidence gleaned from that stop could be suppressed. That could very well mean dismissal of the DUI case.

At The Ansara Law Firm, our Fort Lauderdale DUI defense lawyers will explore every available legal option to protect our clients’ rights. That means looking carefully not only at the evidence, but how it was obtained.

What is Probable Cause?

Probable cause is the standard by which police have the grounds to seek a warrant for arrest. In some cases, arrests can be made without warrants, so long as the officer has probable cause.

It can be simply defined as a level of reasonable belief, that is articulable and based on facts, that a person has committed or is committing a crime. The U.S. Supreme Court defined it in the 1949 case of Brinegar v. U.S. as a case in which facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge - and about which they have reasonably good information – are sufficient to warrant the reasonable belief that a crime is being committed.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (which secures citizens against unreasonable search and seizure) requires police to have probable cause to search your property. It’s important to point out the officer is not required here to be certain about the criminal activity. Probable cause can exist even when there is some doubt.

In drunk driving cases, the officer doesn’t necessarily need to see you driving in a suspicious manner to form probable cause you are drunk. For example, if you are involved in a collision, that could be used as part of the evidence.

Further, even if you were spotted driving erratically, that’s not necessarily proof of DUI. A traffic violation could be used as reasonable suspicion to stop you, but from there, the officer will be closely examining the way you act, the way you smell and the way you look. Are your eyes glassy? Is your speech slurred? Do you smell like alcohol? Do you have open containers of alcohol in plain view? Does your car smell like marijuana? Have you admitted to drinking alcohol? All of this can be used to form probable cause for an arrest.

Police Interactions in DUI Cases

There are three basic levels of police interaction with citizens. Those are:

  • Consensual encounters;
  • Investigatory stops/ detentions;
  • Full-scale arrest.

By-and-large, most DUI traffic stops in Florida begin as investigatory stops/ detentions and many result in full-scale arrest. Police must abide certain standards in each interaction to ensure the evidence gathered is lawful. Their failure to do so could result in suppression of evidence.

Consensual encounters usually involve minimal contact with police and no seizure. Consensual encounters, per the 1980 U.S. Supreme Court ruling of U.S. v. Mendenhall, occur when – in light of the totality of the circumstances – a person believes he or she is free to leave.

By contrast, investigatory stops and detentions require a “well-founded, reasonable suspicion of criminal activity,” per the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Terry v. Ohio. The Second District Court of Appeal has ruled that law enforcement officers can temporarily detain someone for an investigatory stop if there is a “founded” suspicion the person has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime. Reasonable suspicion must be factually-founded in circumstances the officer observed. Merely “suspicion” isn’t enough, and courts have held essentially amounts to a hunch or guesswork. There must be an objective basis for it.

Florida courts have held, consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Florida v. J.L ., that police can initiate investigatory stops when a suspect matches identifying descriptions and there is other information to corroborate suspect’s involvement the alleged criminal activity. For instance, in a DUI case, an anonymous caller may alert police to a suspected drunk driver. Officers may locate the driver who meets the description, but unless they can find some other information to corroborate the suspicion that suspect engaged in a crime (i.e., DUI), the stop may be unlawful.

Full-scale arrests , meanwhile require probable cause. To initiate an arrest, the officer’s subjective intentions aren’t relevant. Instead, the question is whether, based on circumstances and facts in the officer’s knowledge, there was reasonably trustworthy information that would lead a prudent person to believe the suspect had committed or was committing an offense. That was established both by the U.S. Supreme Court in Beck v. Ohio in 1964 and Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal in the 1970 case of State v. Profera.

Arguing Lack of Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause

Arguing lack of reasonable suspicion or probable cause in a Fort Lauderdale DUI arrest can be a challenge. Still, it’s worth exploring because police are human and do sometimes make mistakes.

If there is no valid legal basis for pulling the driver over, every shred of evidence gathered thereafter is inadmissible in court.

If you have been arrested for DUI in Fort Lauderdale, call The Ansara Law Firm today for your free initial consultation at (954) 761-4011.

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