While the reason for a police officer's initial stop of you or your vehicle may help support his decision to arrest you for DUI, whether it was a traffic violation or the officer was responding to a car accident, the officer must have probable cause to believe you are driving under the influence of alcohol and a less safe driver. Probable cause can further be supported by the officer's observations of intoxication such as the smell of alcohol on your breath, open containers, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and your performance on field sobriety evaluations. The officer can also use your responses to his questions and any other statements or admissions you make.
If you were pulled over for a headlight or tag violation or another non-moving violation, it may be difficult for the State to show that you were less safe to drive without something more. Many of the officer's observations of intoxication will only show a likelihood of the presence of alcohol but will not show that you were actually impaired, and more importantly, impaired to the point that you were a less safe driver. If the evidence only shows that you were intoxicated but not to the extent of impairment, probable cause to arrest did not exist, but it will take a skilled DUI lawyer to make this argument.
Your performance on standardized field sobriety tests will be used as evidence that you were a less safe driver. These tests, however, are frequently administered incorrectly and the scoring is very subjective. Many factors can affect the reliability of these tests including the age or weight of the driver and environmental conditions. You are not required to answer any questions or perform any field sobriety tests and in most cases by submitting to field sobriety tests you are only helping the officer build his case against you.
If you were in a car accident, the accident itself can be used to show you were less safe to drive depending on the circumstances of the accident. Your behavior after a car accident can be mistaken for clues of alcohol impairment and can also affect your ability to perform field sobriety tests. This can be a successful argument at a motion hearing to show that these observations stemmed from impact during the accident and were not reliable clues to support an arrest decision.
The best evidence to help prove that there was not a sufficient probable cause for your arrest may be the patrol car video of the DUI investigation itself. The video can be used to refute the officer's testimony of how you performed on the field sobriety tests, as well as to show that despite your admission of drinking a few hours prior to being stopped, you were steady on your feet, your speech was not slurred, or that you otherwise did not appear to be impaired.
If no probable cause existed to legally arrest you, the arrest itself will be suppressed along with any chemical tests you submitted to. This can lead to a more favorable plea negotiation or even a full dismissal of the DUI charges against you. What determines probable cause is a complex and ever-changing area of the law and if you have been arrested for DUI, you need to consult an DUI attorney today to evaluate whether sufficient probable cause to arrest existed in your case.