Driving under the influence creates a significant safety risk on South Carolina roads. Police officers may be on the lookout for driving behavior that indicates an intoxicated individual is operating a motor vehicle. However, the police may not harass drivers, and reasonable suspicion and probable cause should guide a police officer’s decisions. Arbitrarily pulling vehicles over and performing sobriety tests and searches may not be lawful actions.
Reasonable suspicion and DUI arrests
Reasonable suspicion is not the same as probable cause as the bar for reasonable suspicion is lower. With reasonable suspicion, the police must have an “objective justification” for an investigative stop.
When a vehicle fails to remain in a lane or otherwise displays poor control by the driver, pulling the car over may be necessary. A moving violation provides an opportunity for the police to write a citation and determine if the driver is intoxicated. A disoriented driver who slurs his or her speech would likely give an officer a reason to perform a field sobriety test. The smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath, an open container or discarded beer cans in the backseat may further justify a sobriety test and possible DUI arrest.
No reasonable suspicion or probable cause
If a driver commits no moving violations nor exhibits any suspicious behavior, the police may still stop the vehicle. Any procured evidence could be inadmissible in court when the police lacked any basis for reasonable suspicion or probable cause.
Traffic stops could result from questionable police behavior, including bias and discrimination. Officers who perform traffic stops and searches based on discriminatory behavior may violate the accused’s civil rights, opening doors to a potential civil lawsuit.
Persons facing DUI charges could consult with an attorney about the particulars of the stop and search. A lawyer may raise doubts about probable cause and reasonable suspicion in court.