When it comes to a DWI arrest, an intuition or a hunch of a committed crime is not an acceptable reason for a traffic stop or arrest. Probable cause and reasonable suspicion are two terms commonly used in drunk driving incidents – sometimes interchangeably. Is there a difference between the two?
Reasonable suspicion refers to the rational belief or presumption that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed. It is the most basic threshold of reason needed for an officer to make a traffic stop, and may be based on circumstances, facts, and an officer’s experience and training. Reasonable suspicion is a phrase typically used to justify the investigation of suspicious behavior when a crime may possibly have taken place. While it is considered to be more than just a hunch or a guess, it is deemed to be less reliable than probable cause.
If an officer has reasonable suspicion, it does not mean that you are automatically considered guilty of a crime. It simply means that the officer has sufficient knowledge and the right to conduct further investigations. An officer may state, for example, that you were drifting from one lane to another, frequently braking, and were driving your vehicle at various speeds. Together, these reasons would be enough to stop your vehicle on the suspicion of driving while impaired. In the case of a DWI, an officer may briefly detain you for a limited investigation, and likely conduct a breathalyzer test or a series of field sobriety tests.
Probable cause, on the other hand, is the logical belief that a crime has been, is currently being, or will be committed. It is a reasonable ground for the belief of guilt, and is considered as a higher standard compared to reasonable suspicion because it can be supported by trustworthy circumstances and facts. While reasonable suspicion is typically open to interpretation, there is the presence of concrete evidence of criminal activity with probable cause.
While a police officer only needs reasonable suspicion to temporarily stop your vehicle and question you to investigate if you have possibly committed a crime, the higher standard of probable cause must exist for you to actually be arrested. Simply put, probable cause means that an officer has gathered sufficient evidence to believe that you have likely committed a crime, thus justifying your arrest. In a DWI stop, an officer might have probable cause for your arrest if the results of your breathalyzer test or field sobriety test point to probable intoxication.
Although there is technically a difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause, the difference has been disregarded greatly by many over the years. Of course, law enforcement officials are not always accurate in their belief of having either reasonable belief or probable cause to warrant a traffic stop. In the event that you were stopped for DWI, it would be most beneficial to you to seek the legal services of a knowledgeable and experienced DWI attorney. After all, the reasons for stopping you may be challenged in court successfully, and can also lead to all other charges being dropped.