Since you’re reading this article chances are you or someone you love has recently been charged with an operating while intoxicated, also known as an OWI.
With this brief article we are going to explain probable cause and how in some cases it can help you get the charges dropped.
What Is Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause?
In Wisconsin and in most other states, in order for law enforcement to pull you over for suspicion of OWI they must have a reasonable suspicion or probable cause to do so. In other words, you must do something that gives the officer reasonable suspicion to believe that you are operating under the influence or do something that violates a traffic law.
Typical driving violations include speeding, failure to obey traffic lights or signs, broken lights, erratic driving, and failure to use directional signals.
If you are pulled over for a driving violation, such as speeding, an officer must have reasonable suspicion to believe that you are under the influence in order to extend the stop to investigate a possible OWI violation.
The officer will look for red bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, the smell of alcohol on your breath, disorganized speech, confrontational behavior, and open containers of alcohol in the vehicle.
Once the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe you are under they influence of alcohol they will begin to build their case against you.
They will typically ask you how much you have had to drink. If you admit to drinking, they have half of the evidence required for an arrest.
At this point they will likely ask you to perform one or more field sobriety tests. This could include the one legged stand, the horizontal gaze or the walk and turn.
Probable Cause for a Preliminary Breath Test
If you do not perform well on the field sobriety tests you will be asked to take a preliminary breath test (PBT). The PBT is a small machine that will show the officer how much alcohol you have in your blood.
The officer must have probable cause to believe that you are under the influence of alcohol prior to administering the PBT. Probable cause to administer a PBT requires less evidence than probable cause to arrest. Failing the field sobriety test would provide this.
Although these devices can provide inaccurate results (which is why the results are inadmissible in court), failing a PBT provides probable cause for arrest. After an OWI arrest, the officer will ask you if you will consent to an evidentiary test of your blood, breath or urine.
This test is considered by law enforcement, the prosecution and the courts to be accurate and will be “admissible” in court unless challenged by an experienced attorney.
Probable Cause For Arrest
If the preliminary breath test shows your blood alcohol level is above the legal limit, that will give the officer probable cause for arrest.
Please note you do have the legal right to refuse to take any field sobriety tests. And while refusing is not a crime, it does add to the officer’s probable cause determination to arrest.
How Probable Cause Can Help Your Case
If you were pulled over or arrested and probable cause or reasonable suspicion was not established, any evidence that was collected against you will be suppressed and unable to be used in court.
Having proper legal representation is the key to ensuring all of your rights have been fully protected.
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