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What Is “Reasonable Suspicion” to Stop Me for DWI?

A Houston-area law enforcement officer is only allowed to detain a driver for drunk driving when there is a “reasonable suspicion” to justify such a stop. This is admittedly a lower standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is the burden of proof prosecutors must meet at trial. Even applying the lower standard, an officer cannot arrest you for DUI merely based on a hunch or vague intuition. There must be specific facts and logical inferences supporting the officer’s decision to initiate the stop.

Judge Rules Officer’s Pursuit, Arrest Unconstitutional

Here is a recent Texas DWI case where a police officer did not meet the reasonable suspicion standard. Late one evening, an officer was riding through an apartment complex when he “saw a dark-colored car headed westbound on the opposite side of the street bounce off a curb,” according to court records. The officer turned around to pursue this car, but he lost visual contact.

After traveling to a nearby intersection, two unidentified pedestrians told the officer they saw a dark-colored Infiniti “driving crazy.” The pedestrians pointed the officer in the westbound direction away from the intersection. The officer followed this lead and thought he identified the car, but then lost track of it again. Eventually, the officer located a black Infiniti parked behind a residence with its lights still on. After waiting “10 to 15 seconds,” the officer got out of his car and moved towards the Infiniti. By this point the driver had pulled into her garage and moved to close the door, but was stopped by the officer, who then arrested the driver for DWI.

The subsequent DWI case then went through several different judges. The first judge denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence gathered during the traffic stop. This judge then left the bench. The second judge assigned to the case had to recuse himself due to a conflict of interest. The third judge then agreed to reconsider the defendant’s motion to suppress, which he decided to grant. The state appealed this decision.

But as the appeals court explained, the officer’s actions violated the defendant’s constitutional rights. The officer lacked “reasonable suspicion” to enter the defendant’s garage and arrest her. For one thing, the pedestrians’ information regarding the car “driving crazy” was not reliable evidence of drunk driving. Nor was the mere fact the officer observed a dark car bouncing off a curb. “Although a reasonable inference can be made that eyewitness pedestrians noticed something unusual enough about the car that they thought an officer would be justified in following it,” the appeals court said, “that still is not sufficient to give [the officer] reasonable suspicion considering the totality of the circumstances in this case.”

Need Help Fighting a Drunk Driving Charge?

While judges and juries often tend to defer to the experience of police officers, that does not make law enforcement infallible. Officers often act on hunches and instinct, but that is not enough to justify an arrest or sustain a criminal DWI conviction. If you have been charged with drunk driving and need from a qualified Houston DWI defense attorney, call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today at (281) 280-0100.