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Reasonable Suspicion & Probable Cause in DUI Cases

A police officer can detain a person for questioning, search for evidence, and make a DUI arrest in West Virginia if he/she establishes reasonable suspicion and probable cause. Although these two legal concepts are used interchangeably, there are several key differences.

Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion must be established in order to detain someone or make a traffic stop. This means that an officer has reason to believe—based on his/her training and experience—that a crime has been committed, is being committed, or will be committed.

While reasonable suspicion is subjective in nature, law enforcement officials must have more than a hunch or gut feeling to detain someone. Certain facts and circumstances must be apparent.

For example, if an officer notices that a driver commits a traffic violation (e.g. running a red light, failing to signal before making a turn or switching lanes, or driving in a night without the headlights on) or otherwise drives erratically, the officer has reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated and can pull him/her over.

Probable Cause

Probable cause must be established to obtain a warrant, search a vehicle, or arrest a suspected drunk driver. There needs to be enough evidence that a reasonable person would believe a crime has been, is being, or will be committed.

Referring back to the example above, when the officer pulls over the vehicle and interacts with the driver, he/she notices the smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath, the driver’s speech is slurred, and the driver’s eyes are red and watery, the officer has probable cause to make a DUI arrest.

The main difference between reasonable suspicion and probable cause is that the former exists if a reasonable officer may suspect criminal activity, while the latter exists if a reasonable individual (not a cop) may suspect a crime.

If you have been charged with a DUI in West Virginia, contact The Wagner Law today at (304) 461-6000.

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