If you are out driving and you suddenly see flashing lights in your rearview mirror, the first question you probably ask (to no one in particular) is: “What did I do?” In some cases, you might not be aware of breaking any laws. Other times, you might know that you were doing something illegal but don’t know how the officer spotted you.
As it turns out, an officer’s reasons for initiating a traffic stop are pretty important, especially when the stop leads to charges of driving under the influence. The officer must have “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity in order to initiate a traffic stop. If the stop is challenged in court and a judge finds that the stop was invalid, any evidence obtained during the stop could be thrown out.
What constitutes reasonable suspicion? In many cases, DUI traffic stops are based on illegal, dangerous or simply odd driving behaviors that the officer observes. A driver may be weaving in and out of their lane, driving much higher or lower than the speed limit, or braking excessively.
A DUI traffic stop does not need to be based on the suspicion of drunk driving. Police officers can pull you over for mechanical problems with your vehicle if they represent a safety hazard or are a violation of local statutes. Having a burned-out headlight, for instance, is a common reason that drivers get pulled over. If the officer then smells alcohol or notices other evidence to suggest drunk driving, he may proceed with questions and field sobriety tests from there.
There are a number of reasons an officer can lawfully initiate a traffic stop. But if the traffic stop was based on a “hunch” or a “gut feeling,” it will probably fail to meet the burden of reasonable suspicion. As such, you might be able to successfully challenge the traffic stop in court.