The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement officers. This limits the ability of police officers to detain you or your vehicle except in limited circumstances. But what are those circumstances? How can a defense lawyer help?
Most DUI cases begin with the police officer's stop of your vehicle due to him observing you commit a traffic violation or driving erratically. There are certain circumstances that a police officer may stop your vehicle for investigatory purposes, however, when no traffic violation was observed. The officer needs, in those circumstances, a reasonable, articulable suspicion that you are involved in criminal activity in the Atlanta - Fulton County area.
To be constitutional, police can only conduct a brief detention based on a particularized and objective basis of criminal activity. Some examples of what constitute "articulable suspicion" of DUI include weaving within one's lane, driving too slowly, erratic braking or using turn signals without turning, and executing a U-turn prior to a roadside checkpoint.
A police officer's decision to stop your vehicle cannot be based only on a "hunch." A stop would not be justified if no traffic violation was observed, there was no apparent criminal activity, and no attempt to flee. An officer cannot stop you merely because he sees you pull into the parking lot of a closed business at 2 a.m. If you were stopped under unusual circumstances, you need to contact a skilled and knowledgeable lawyer to evaluate the facts of your case and determine whether you were illegally detained.
An officer can stop a vehicle based on a concerned citizen's report – typically a 911 call to report a driver suspected of DUI. The tip would have to be reliable and the information supplied by the concerned citizen would have to be corroborated by the officer before initiating the traffic stop.
If a police officer sees a vehicle in apparent need of assistance or help or if an accident has occurred, the officer can approach the vehicle to determine what is wrong. This is common in cases where a driver falls asleep at the wheel in the middle of an intersection or even in a parking lot. The officer will approach the vehicle to see if the driver is in need of medical attention or is otherwise in distress.
Once the purpose of the stop has been fulfilled, the officer cannot continue to detain you or your vehicle. If you were stopped for speeding, the officer can only detain you for the length of time it takes to question you about the offense and issue a traffic citation. The officer is only authorized to extend the scope of his investigation if during that time, he makes other specific observations that lead him to believe you are involved in other criminal activity. Nervousness alone does not provide the necessary reasonable suspicion to prolong an investigation.
If an officer observes other signs of impairment after stopping your vehicle, the officer can then further detain you and your vehicle for purposes of investigating whether you are under the influence of alcohol and safe to continue driving. It will be vital to your defense to determine whether you were legally detained and investigated for suspicion of DUI.
If it is determined that the stop was pretextual or otherwise illegal, the subsequent arrest for DUI will be illegal. Georgia law on this issue is complex and it will take an experienced lawyer to sort through the specific facts of your case and evaluate the legality of the officer's actions. Even if you committed a traffic violation, the officer may have illegally expanded the scope of his investigation or detained you longer than necessary. If you have been arrested for impaired driving, contact a DUI specialist today.