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 & Probable Cause in DUI CasesReasonable 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.

What is 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.