What is Reasonable and Articulable Suspicion?
Considering the potentially life-altering effects of a driving while intoxicated (DWI) conviction in Minnesota, it may be beneficial for someone facing a criminal charge of this nature to explore all avenues of defense. When examining possible modes of attack on the state's case, it is worth determining reasonable and articulable suspicion in the context of a traffic stop, as the answer may prove critical in fighting back against allegations of drunk driving.
Common Causes of DWI Traffic Stops
Police officers in Minnesota are legally permitted to conduct a traffic stop if they are able to point to specific, objective facts that suggest that a driver is engaged in criminal conduct. Defendants should note that the factual underpinnings of such a belief need not be overwhelming in nature, and virtually any traffic violation is sufficient justification to pull over a vehicle. This threshold standard is that of reasonable and articulable suspicion.
Some common types of conduct that may give rise to the type of suspicion to initiate a traffic stop include:
- Weaving in and out of traffic
- Driving with inoperable vehicle lights
- Failure to display a proper license plate
- Excessive speeding
- Failure to use a turn signal
Once a traffic stop occurs, the investigation's scope is limited to the specific reason for the pull-over, unless another reasonable and articulable suspicion of additional criminal conduct presents itself. It is unlawful for an investigation to proceed beyond the initial rationale for the stop without meeting that standard.
Reasonable Suspicion vs. Probable Cause
While reasonable suspicion is enough for law enforcement to initiate a traffic stop, it is insufficient for an arrest, which requires probable cause. This is a higher standard, and it requires more than simple suspicion of unlawful conduct. Law enforcement may establish probable cause by making personal observations of intoxication, conducting field sobriety tests, obtaining admissions from the motorist, and more.
When an officer makes a traffic stop or a subsequent arrest in violation of the above threshold standards, there is an opportunity for a knowledgeable defense lawyer to mount a successful attack on the state's case. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the comparable provision in the Minnesota Constitution both prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures. Any evidence that flows from an illegally initiated or unlawfully expanded traffic stop is subject to possible suppression and exclusion from use against a criminal defendant.
A seasoned defense attorney could be well-versed in the parameters that law enforcement must abide by when conducting traffic stops for suspected drunk driving. By carefully evaluating the facts of the traffic stop and any expansion of the investigation that subsequently occurred, it may be possible to identify fatal flaws in the prosecution's case that can result in dismissal of the entire matter.
Exposing the Absence of Reasonable and Articulable Suspicion
A guilty finding in a DWI case can result in incarceration, costly fines, job loss, and more. If you are facing this sort of charge, now is the time to consult with a lawyer who can explain reasonable and articulable suspicion in the context of a drunk driving traffic stop and assess whether or not the police acted lawfully in your case. Call today to learn more about how a skilled traffic attorney could help.