Probable Cause and DWI Arrest Explained

January 2nd, 2012

Probable cause refers to evidence or facts that would make a reasonable person believe that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed.  It is based on factual evidence, not simply on suspicion.

Probable cause to arrest a DWI offender is not the same as arresting a person on reasonable suspicion to detain him/her for the purpose of investigation. When arresting a drunk driver, there are more factors required for the arrest to rise to the level of probable cause. The officer’s initial observation of a driver’s unusual driving behavior is not enough, although it often suffices to establish reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop.

Probable Cause Must Exist To Justify An Arrest

In order for a judge to issue a warrant of arrest or a search warrant, there must be probable cause that a crime took place and that the accused person has committed or was involved in the criminal activity. In case of a warrantless arrest (as is the case with a DWI arrest) the arrest must meet the standard of probable cause so it can be admissible in court.

Sometimes a Minnesota DWI defense Lawyer can establish that the officer that arrested his client for DWI didn’t have probable cause. In such cases,  the DWI attorney presents his case to the trial judge, who will weigh the evidence to come up with a decision. The judge requires specific evidence, and not just conclusions from witnesses. A case that lacks specific evidence, more often than not, is dismissed by the trial judge.

How an Arresting Officer Establishes Probable Cause

In general, though not at all times, a police officer establishes probable cause to arrest a driver by:

  • observing the driver’s impaired driving behavior and establishes a reasonable suspicion of a DWI violation
  • stopping the vehicle and questioning the driver
  • administering a standardized field sobriety test (SFST)
  • administering a preliminary breath test (PBT)

What Happens During a Minnesota DWI Arrest

If reasonable suspicion and probable cause is established by a police officer, a DWI arrest will take place. If you’re arrested for DWI, the arresting officer must advise you of your right for an attorney and read your “implied consent rights” which informs you of your rights to refuse submitting yourself to a chemical test and the consequences resulting from your refusal.

The officer will then request an evidentiary chemical sample from you, whether through breath, urine or blood test to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC). If you refuse a certain type of test, you must be offered another type of test. It’s important to note that refusing a chemical test is a crime in Minnesota.

If you’re unconscious, then the consent is deemed not to have been withdrawn, and the chemical test can be administered. The officer determines whether a sample for the test is taken from your breath, blood or urine.

Minnesota Breath Tests

The two types of breath tests in Minnesota are the Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) and the Evidentiary Breath Test (EBT). The handheld PBT is only used at the scene before a DWI arrest. It’s not as reliable as the EBT and in general its sole results are not admissible in court. The PBT results help officers determine whether they have probable cause to arrest you or not. After the arrest, the EBT is taken at the station where the DataMaster EBT machine is. The results of the EBT are admissible in court. Refusal to submit to an evidentiary breath test is a misdemeanor criminal offense in Minnesota.

Reliability of Breath Tests

The results of the evidentiary breath test are used as evidence to prove your guilt. It’s important to know, however, that the results of the DWI breath test are not always perfect.  There are certain human variables which may affect the results of the test such as diseases and the individual’s bodily compositions.  The machine itself is also prone to maintenance and operator errors. This means that the machine can make you appear guilty of DWI even when you have not taken alcohol beverage or prohibited drugs. It can even make you appear innocent even if you are truly impaired. As a result of this, sometimes results of the breath tests can be challenged in court.

Challenging a DWI Arrest

To establish probable cause of a DWI arrest, there are many factors to consider from the time the vehicle is spotted (a car weaving without crossing a line can’t be stopped in Minnesota), up to the filing of the DWI case. There are sometimes flaws during the prosecutor’s presentation of the case in court. If the prosecutor is not able to establish a probable cause for a DWI arrest, the DWI charge can be dismissed. There are many flaws and mistakes that an experienced Minnesota DUI Lawyer is able to effectively challenge.

What to Do If You’re Arrested 

If you or a loved one happens to be charged with a DUI related offense, you can greatly better your situation with the immediate help of an experienced DWI attorney. Douglas T. Kans has the know-how and ability to provide you with the best strategy in defense of your case. You can contact us at (952) 835-6314 for a free case review.

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