Facing DWI charges after an unreasonable traffic stop

| Apr 16, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

Being pulled over by a police officer is often a stressful experience — especially if a driver believes he or she has done nothing wrong. The results of a seemingly unjustified traffic stop can sometimes lead to criminal charges, too. However, if a driver was charged with a DWI — driving while impaired — following a traffic stop for which the officer did not have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, it might be possible to dismiss the charges.

What is reasonable suspicion?

North Carolina police officers are not allowed to pull over drivers just because they feel like it. Instead, they must have a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is taking place. Examples of possible reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop related drunk driving might include behaviors such as:

  • Straddling the middle line of traffic
  • Making an illegal turn
  • Drifting in and out of lanes
  • Driving extremely slow or fast
  • Frequently braking
  • Erratic driving behavior

What about probable cause?

Reasonable suspicion is what allows officers to temporarily stop, detain and investigate drivers who might have committed crimes. Officers have to meet the higher standard of having probable cause to make an arrest, though. If an officer has probable cause, it means that he or she has sufficient evidence of an alleged crime to make an arrest. When it comes to drunk driving, probable cause could be the results of a blood alcohol content test or field sobriety tests.

If an officer initiates a traffic stop without reasonable suspicion, or makes a DWI arrest without probable cause, the charges might not hold up in court. Demonstrating that a traffic stop was unjustified often requires a careful approach, though. Defendants who are unsure of how to start this process would be well advised to seek guidance from an attorney who is knowledgeable in North Carolina criminal law.