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What are reasonable suspicion and probable cause?

People will sometimes accuse police officers of pulling them over without a valid reason. They may assume that just because they aren’t speeding or don’t have something violating the motor vehicle code that the cops can’t initiate a traffic stop. 

The fact of the matter is that police officers can pull you over as long as they have reasonable suspicion that something is amiss. This isn’t a very high standard for them to meet, but failing to meet it could mean that a criminal case gets thrown out. 

What is reasonable suspicion?

Reasonable suspicion means that the officer saw signs they believe indicate that a law is being, has been or will be broken. In the case of drunk driving, this can be something as simple as a vehicle swerving a bit or braking frequently. The standard isn’t very high, so it’s often difficult to prove that there wasn’t reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop. 

To initiate an arrest, the officer must have probable cause. This is a stricter standard than reasonable suspicion. It means they must have evidence that you were too impaired to operate your vehicle. Often, a police officer will do this by conducting a field sobriety test or a chemical test. 

Anyone who’s arrested on an impaired driving charge should learn about their options for a defense. These vary greatly, depending on the circumstances. Doing this early in the case is important since there might be time limits on some of the defense options. You should also tell your attorney about everything that happened so they can determine if any of it may play a role in your defense strategy.

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