Reasonable or Probable Cause in Los Angeles DUI

 Man having discussion with police officer by car

In the majority of driving under the influence cases, the DUI investigation begins after the driver has been pulled over by a law enforcement officer. Many drivers are under the impression that law enforcement can pull them over for any reason. However, this is not the case and the California and United States Supreme Court has determined that any traffic stop must be supported by reasonable or probable cause to believe that the driver has violated the law. While this is true for any vehicle stop, it often comes up in the context of DUI prosecutions.

Officer Must Have Reasonable Cause

In the majority of DUI cases, the reasonable or probable cause stated for the vehicle stop may have nothing to do with impaired driving. This is because an officer must base the traffic stop on an objective violation of the law that is observed. Simply stating a belief that the driver was intoxicated based on the time of night that he or she was driving or even the fact that the driver was seen leaving a bar does not provide sufficient grounds to execute a traffic stop. The officer must be able to point a specific violation of the Vehicle Code or other law, such as a speeding violation, a driver’s inability to stay within a single lane of traffic, running red lights or stop signs or even equipment violations that can have nothing to do with driver impairment.

Usually, the officer will inform the driver why he or she has been pulled over, however this is not always the case. In many cases, the law enforcement patrol vehicle will be equipped with a dash cam video recorder designed to record the defendant’s driving conduct. This video can be requested as part of the discovery process and can often serve as a critical piece of evidence in challenging an officer’s statement of probable cause.

Officer’s Incident Report of Arrest

Even if the officer does not inform the driver why he or she is being pulled over, this information will become part of the officer’s incident report regarding the arrest. The reason for the vehicle stop will also be sent to the Department of Motor Vehicles on the DS-367 form that requires an officer’s sworn statement of probable cause. This will be sent to the hearing officer who will ultimately determine whether or not a driver’s license suspension should be imposed or set aside.

In some DUI cases, reasonable or probable cause is not an issue. This is often the case where there is a DUI collision and the officer was lawfully investigating the accident when he or she determined that one (or more) of the drivers involved was potentially under the influence. This is also the case where the officer is completing a community caretaking function, such as helping out a distressed driver who is later determined to be impaired.

The defendant can challenge the basis of the stop in court by filing a motion to suppress pursuant to California Penal Code Section 1538.5 PC. If successful, all resulting evidence against the defendant will be suppressed and the prosecution will be unable to move forward and will likely dismiss the case. The dash cam video evidence often plays a critical role in the 1538.5 hearing.

If you have been arrested for or charged with DUI, it is critical that you speak with a Los Angeles DUI Lawyer as soon as possible. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Attorney Michael Kraut is highly effective at litigating complicated legal issues surrounding DUI cases, including those pertaining to the vehicle stop.

For more information about Los Angeles DUI and reasonable or probable cause, and to schedule your free consultation, Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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