Before an officer can utter the six words we all hate to hear (please step out of the car), the officer must have reasonable suspicion to believe that the driver is intoxicated. Under Terry v. Ohio, this standard is a mixture of “specific articulable facts” and the officer’s subjective interpretation of those facts.
In most all cases, DWI arrests begin with traffic stops, mostly because even the most cautious motorist usually cannot go more than a few blocks without rolling through a stop sign, travelling 1mph over the speed limit, changing lanes too close to an intersection, or committing some other minor infraction.
Other times, an officer runs a driver’s license plate and determines that the driver has an outstanding warrant. Even if the warrant is several decades old and/or from another jurisdiction, the officer has the authority to arrest the defendant on the spot.
Finally, a few traffic stops involve furtive movements, such as making nervous glances into a rearview mirror or acting as if the person has something to hide. These stops are in a grey area, because some courts do not equate furtive movements with reasonable suspicion.
Officers do not always need to see possibly illegal activity to detain motorists. If they receive a third-party tip about an intoxicated driver, the judge later evaluates this tip based on several criteria, including:
- Source: Tips from fellow officers which come over the radio are considered very reliable. On the other end of the scale, anonymous tips are usually considered very unreliable, since the caller is arguably unwilling to vouch for the information he/she provides.
- Motive: Most tipsters have very pure motives, but some just want to cause trouble for the defendant or collect a promised reward.
- Specificity: Generalized tips like “white SUV” often indicate that the tipster has very little knowledge of the situation, but more specific tips often indicate that the opposite is true and therefore the more specific tip is also more reliable.
Time is of the essence in DWI tips. If a tipster claims that a certain motorist was DWI two hours ago, it’s very unlikely that said driver is still illegally impaired.
Some officers need neither visual nor auditory evidence of illegal activity before they can stop motorists on suspicion of DWI. As we get closer to New Year’s Eve, law enforcement agencies throughout Southeast Texas are probably already planning holiday checkpoints. The checkpoints must meet strict requirements in terms of their placement and operation.
Motorists have the right to simply flash the required documents (which are usually a drivers’ license and proof of insurance) and not roll down the window. Bear in mind, however, that officers also have the right to tail these individuals and look for excuses to pull them over.
Rely on a Savvy Attorney
Officers cannot simply pull over whomever they please. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Houston, contact the Law Office of Jim Medley.