The best Orlando DUI attorneys always challenge the legality of your DUI stop.

Reasonable Suspicion: Did the police stop you illegally?

The normal standard for stopping a car is probable cause.

But obviously, since the police will almost never be able to tell if your driving was caused by lack of sleep, an animated conversation, playing with the radio, dropping a cigarette in your lap, an epileptic seizure, or some lawful reason other than alcohol or drugs, they’ll never observe sufficient probable cause to believe you were DUI.

Rather than deciding that the police should never be allowed to stop a suspected DUI driver, the courts have allowed police officers to use a lesser standard called “founded suspicion” or “reasonable suspicion” to believe that a driver has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime.

For example, let’s say the police see a driver weaving back and forth within the lane, braking erratically, and driving 10 mph below the speed limit. None of those actions are traffic violations, so the police can’t (legally) stop you to issue a traffic ticket.

Instead, the police will tell the judge that, based upon their training and experience, they had a reasonable suspicion to believe that the driver was “ill, tired, or impaired.”

Here are some examples of different driving patterns where the courts have said it was legal for the police to stop a car:

  • Car was weaving within its lane and going significantly below the speed limit. Bailey v. State, 319 So.2d 22, 26 (Fla. 1975)
  • Car drove in an “erratic fashion” (weaving within the right lane) and the officer said he thought the driver “was drunk, or asleep, or because the car might be having some mechanical difficulty.” Esteen v. State, 503 So.2d 357 (Fla. 5th DCA 1987)
  • Car was weaving within its own lane, and officer believed the driver was impaired. State v. Carrillo, 506 So.2d 495 (Fla. 5th DCA 1987)
  • Car seemed to be using the lane markers to position his vehicle, abruptly slowed from 55 mph to 30 mph, then took off and accelerated rapidly. State Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles v. DeShong, 603 So.2d 1349 (Fla. 2d DCA 1992)
  • Car weaving within its own lane, repeatedly slowed to 45 mph, accelerates to 55 mph, and slows down again. Brown v. State, 595 So.2d 270 (Fla. 2d DCA 1992)

In each of these examples, the driver doesn’t commit any traffic violations. But, looking at the “totality of the circumstances,” judges found that the officers’ suspicions of DUI were reasonable, and upheld the legality of the stop.

It sounds like they just have to say, “I thought he was drunk,” and that’s enough reason to stop you, right?

But that’s not the case. First of all, if your driving wasn’t as bad as what’s described above, you may be able to argue that the officer’s suspicions weren’t reasonable, and that the officer stopped you based on a “mere hunch” that he thought you were DUI.

The courts have ruled that reasonable suspicion has to be more than a “bare suspicion.” Major v. State, 70 So.3d 655 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011). If you swerved only one or two times, rather than a continuous pattern of weaving, you can argue that the police officer’s suspicions weren’t reasonable. This is especially easy in today’s era of distracted drivers, where bad driving seems to be the norm, rather than the exception.

Second, even if the officer describes a pattern of weaving, swerving, or other “unusual” driving, it may still not be enough to justify the stop. One of the important considerations is whether he actually says the “magic words” when he testifies at the motion hearing. The Florida Supreme Court said that when a stop is based on an unusual driving that falls short of a traffic violation, the officer must articulate both the facts and the conclusions that the officer drew from those facts. Dobrin vs. Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, 874 So.2d 1171 (Fla. 2004). The Court ruled, “the record did not competently or substantially support the officer’s stop of Dobrin’s vehicle to determine whether Dobrin was ill, tired, or driving under the influence because the arrest report did not indicate that the reason for the stop was that [the] officer thought Dobrin was impaired.” Dobrin, at 1174. Since the officer “did not indicate that impairment was the reason for the stop,” the stop was invalid.

The same thing can happen in your case. If the police officer’s suspicions weren’t reasonable and he didn’t have a valid reason to stop your car, you might have the perfect defense to your DUI charge.

About The Author

Elliott Wilcox

Orlando DUI lawyer Elliott Wilcox isn't just a former DUI prosecutor… He's the one who TRAINED all of the DUI prosecutors! Elliott dedicates 100% of his practice to DUI defense. If you've been arrested for an Orlando DUI, call Elliott for help at (407) DUI-HELP.