What is Probable Cause?
Answers from our Ventura DUI Defense Attorneys
Police cannot conduct a traffic stop, DUI investigation, or arrest without probable cause: a reason to believe that you drove under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Additionally, the arresting officer must be able to articulate the specific reasons that he / she believes you were under the influence of a drugs or alcohol at the time of your arrest. If you were arrested without probable cause, any evidence obtained after the DUI investigation or arrest may be suppressed in court, which can give you a greater chance of obtaining a case dismissal or favorable verdict.
California VC § 23152 & Probable Cause
According to California VC § 23152(a), no person is allowed to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs in California. VC § 23152(b) states that a person is considered "under the influence" of alcohol when his / her blood alcohol content (BAC) is .08% or more. In a DUI case, the court will assume that a driver was under the influence of alcohol if, within three hours of driving, chemical testing indicates that his / her BAC is above the legal limit; however, police cannot initiate a DUI investigation and demand testing without a reason to believe that the driver is actually under the influence of alcohol.
A police officer might pull a driver over for speeding, notice an open container of alcohol in the car, and begin a DUI investigation. In this situation, the police officer had probable cause to conduct a traffic stop and begin a DUI investigation, even though he / she originally pulled the driver over for speeding. Although the law does not specify what constitutes probable cause in a DUI arrest, we do know that the arresting officer must be able to explain his / her reasons for suspecting DUI.
Without reasonable suspicion, the judge may decide to dismiss your case or reduce your charges. If you were arrested for DUI without probable cause, the Ventura DUI attorneys at Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP can help you seek a case dismissal.
Probable Cause to Initiate a Traffic Stop
Probable cause to execute a traffic stop does not always involve drunk driving. In fact, many DUI investigations and arrests begin with an unrelated traffic offense, such as reckless driving or a stop sign violation. In other words, a police officer cannot pull you over without a good reason, but this reason does not have to involve drunk driving. Past court decisions have also determined the law enforcement officer must be able to articulate each fact that led him / her to pull you over. These facts should be specifically recorded in a police report to make sure that the officer did not initiate an unwarranted traffic stop.
DUI Investigations & Probable Cause
The term "DUI investigation" refers to the information that a police officer uses to justify a drunk driving arrest. This might include repeated, DUI-related questions like "Were you drinking tonight?" and field sobriety testing. Breathalyzer testing or other forms of alcohol screening can constitute an investigation as well. In order to start a DUI investigation, the officer must have a reason to believe that you are under the influence of alcohol. Without probable cause for a DUI investigation, any information that the officer collects during the investigation may be inadmissible in court.
Although the law does not specify the articulable facts that constitute probable cause for a DUI investigation, police reports usually indicate one or more of the following evidences:
- The driver had an open container or alcohol in the car
- The driver smelled like alcohol
- The driver's eyes were watery
- The driver's face was red
- The driver exhibited any symptom of intoxication
Without one of these facts (or similar evidence), any chemical testing or field sobriety tests conducted after the traffic stop may not be admissible in court.
Police Cannot Make a DUI Arrest Without Probable Cause
After a DUI investigation, law enforcement cannot conduct a DUI arrest without further evidence that the driver is intoxicated. Probable cause from a DUI arrest usually involved chemical or field sobriety testing; an officer might smell alcohol on a driver's breath, request a breathalyzer test, and arrest the driver if the test indicates that his / her BAC is over the legal limit. Field sobriety tests are another common probable cause for a DUI arrest. If the office does not discover new evidence of intoxication or cannot articulate the reason that he /she suspected DUI, the court may consider it a wrongful arrest.
1538.5 Suppression Hearings & DUI Evidence
According to California Penal Code § 1538.5(B)(iii),
A defendant may move for the return of property or to suppress as evidence any tangible or intangible thing obtained as a result of a search or seizure on either of the following grounds: The search or seizure with a warrant was unreasonable because…there was not probable cause for the issuance of the warrant.
In other words, California allows defendants the opportunity to suppress any evidence held against them that was obtained without probable cause. This law applies DUI cases as well. Although suppression hearings are not always successful, defense lawyers often use them as part of a case strategy. In a DUI case, you may be able to file a successful motion to suppress evidence if the arresting officer:
- Pulled you over, even though you didn't commit a traffic infraction
- Detained you without any symptoms of intoxication
- Arrested you even though you passed field sobriety testing
- Arrested you even though you had one drink and were not intoxicated