In general, a police officer can stop a driver if she has reasonable suspicion of criminal behavior. Furthermore, an officer that thinks you have committed a crime can stop and detain you for a brief period while she conducts a limited investigation. Perhaps this is what happened to you while you were driving home from the weekly family dinner at your parents' house.
You had left your parents' house and had made it almost halfway back to your apartment when a police officer pulled you over. As far as you knew, you were not speeding, you were not weaving and your headlights were on. Next thing you knew, the officer was handcuffing you and placing in the back of her cruiser.
Was there reasonable suspicion?
In order to be legal, your drunk driving arrest had to begin with the officer having reasonable suspicion that you were involved in some sort of criminal activity. This is the case even if you were not engaging in any illegal behavior. If the officer did not have reasonable suspicion for the stop, then it is possible that the court will dismiss your case. An experienced Wisconsin criminal defense attorney can guide you through the process of dealing with a DWI charge.
Many circumstances may lead an officer to have reasonable suspicion. For example, a driver that straddled the center line, made an illegal left turn or drifted from one lane to another can cause a police officer to think the motorist is impaired. Other driving activity that rouses suspicion is nearly hitting other cars or objects, erratic driving, continuous breaking and stopping for no apparent reason.
If an officer witnesses the above behavior, it is enough to trigger reasonable suspicion that the driver is not capable of operating a vehicle. Stopping a driver for an unrelated infraction, such as a burned out taillight, may lead to the officer to form an opinion that the driver is impaired. Furthermore, the officer can suspect a driver of being impaired even if she did not see any actual driving. This is more common after an officer arrives on the scene of an accident or if she finds a driver passed out while behind the wheel of a parked car.
What is probable cause?
While reasonable suspicion is enough for an officer to pull you over and temporarily detain you while investigating the situation further, she has to have probably cause before she can arrest you. This means that the officer had to have enough evidence that you probably committed a crime in order to justify your arrest. Usually, in DWI cases, an officer obtains probable cause through a field sobriety test or breathalyzer test.
If the officer did not have reasonable suspicion that you committed a crime before she pulled you over, your attorney may be able to convince the court to dismiss the case. It is important that you understand your rights and options when it comes to a DWI charge.