As criminal defense lawyers, one of the main issues we investigate when evaluating a DWI case is how someone came in contact with the police, which commonly includes law enforcement pulling over a person’s vehicle. Mistakenly, some people believe the standard for a traffic stop is probable cause. Courts define probable cause as a reasonable belief that someone has, is, or is about to commit a crime. While probable cause is the standard to arrest someone on suspicion that they committed a crime, probable cause is a higher standard than is necessary for law enforcement to actually stop someone for the purpose of a brief investigation. Reasonable suspicion is all that is needed for a police officer to detain a person, which is a lower standard than probable cause.
Courts define reasonable suspicion as specific and articulable facts combined with rational inferences from those facts that someone has, is, or is about to commit a crime. Reasonable suspicion is such a low standard that courts have even stated that an actual traffic violation is not necessary to stop someone. All the police officer needs to show is that their stop was not based on a mere whim. Traffic and equipment violations, however, are some of the most common reasons law enforcement stop vehicles, which eventually can result in a DWI arrest. Common reasons for traffic stops often include: speeding, crossing over the fog, or center, line, broken taillights, headlights not on, expired registration, and license plate lights out. While courts generally uphold those types of stops, courts typically will find the following stops not valid: stopping a vehicle on the sole basis that the vehicle displays DWI, or whiskey, license plates; slight weaving within one’s own traffic lane because of wind; and when police officers receive a tip from an anonymous caller that someone is driving drunk while not observing any impaired driving conduct and not forming an independent basis for the stop. These cases often fall in the “mere whim” category as to why law enforcement officers stop a vehicle on suspicion of DWI, which can be contested at a pre-trial hearing.
Criminal defense lawyers will often contest a stop by filing a motion to suppress prior to trial. This motion often states that the police officer did not have reasonable suspicion to seize the defendant; and any evidence obtained after the seizure should be suppressed. This motion often includes a pre-trial hearing where the police officer and other witnesses may be called to testify against you, or on your behalf. After the hearing, the court may allow the parties to submit written material further supporting their respective cases. After hearing all of the evidence, the court usually takes the motion under advisement before issuing an order. Because of the nuances in the law, it is important to have a lawyer review your case.
A DWI conviction can have very serious consequences. Therefore, if you find yourself charged with such a serious offense, you should immediately seek the advice of an experienced Criminal Attorney. If you would like a free consultation, please contact the Minnesota Criminal Lawyers at the Kans Law Firm, LLC.