Every American enjoys rights and freedoms under the US Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees your right to free speech, while the Second provides for the right to own and use firearms.
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects us against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Only “probable cause” can justify such actions by the police.
This means law enforcement officers cannot search you, arrest you, enter your home, or search your vehicle unless they have a good reason to do so. Whether or not probable cause exists in a certain situation depends on the circumstances, including the offense in question.
So, what is probable cause in a DWI case?
What Is Probable Cause & How Does It Work?
Probable cause exists when there is a reasonable basis for the belief that a crime has occurred or that there is evidence of a crime. Law enforcement authorities generally present their reasons for believing that probable cause exists to a judge, who then decides whether or not to issue a search or arrest warrant.
There are also circumstances under which probable cause can justify an arrest or search without a warrant. If, for example, a suspected offender is apprehended while apparently committing a crime, police officers can place them under arrest on the spot. The arresting officer usually has to justify such a detainment to an appropriate official within 48 hours of the incident.
The US Constitution does not specify what “probable cause” means in practice, so courts have had to make their own interpretations. Judges have been allowed a certain amount of flexibility in this regard. The standard for probable cause in a specific case will depend on the potential crime in question.
What’s Necessary for Probable Cause to Exist in a DWI Case?
Once a police officer pulls you over in relation to a possible DWI offense, they can perform field sobriety tests to establish probable cause. These tests (the one-leg stand, the walk-and-turn, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus) look for signs that drivers lack the coordination required to drive properly. If an officer judges that your performance in these tests indicates you may be over the legal blood alcohol concentration limit (which is 0.08% in most cases), they have established the probable cause required to arrest you.
Law enforcement officers are entitled to examine your vehicle from the outside without probable cause. They can also require you to present proof of insurance and identification. As well as the three field sobriety tests, officers can assess your appearance and demeanor to gauge whether you’ve been drinking (for example, by looking out for a smell of alcohol or slurring in your speech).
While the police don’t need probable cause to stop your vehicle, they cannot pull you over for no reason whatsoever. There must be a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity may be occurring; a traffic violation, for example.
One issue that can arise in relation to probable cause and DWI offenses is whether a defendant was under arrest during their initial interaction with the police. A police officer does not need probable cause to approach you, but they do need it to detain you. This detention doesn’t need to involve handcuffs or a cell; under Minnesota law, if an average reasonable person would feel they are not free to leave a given encounter with the police, then an arrest is considered to have taken place, even if this wasn’t the officer’s intention.
During a DWI stop, a police officer has enough time to run checks on your license and registration, as well as look up any outstanding warrants against you. If the stop runs for longer than that, depending on other circumstances, a court might determine that you were technically under arrest.
Protecting Your Constitutional Rights During a DWI Stop
Dealing with a police stop can be a nerve-wracking experience. It’s important to remember your rights in relation to probable cause under the Fourth Amendment if an officer does pull your car over.
If you think the police have treated you unfairly in relation to a DWI charge or another criminal matter, we can help. Contact us today for a free initial evaluation of your case.