Anyone who has stumbled upon a DUI checkpoint or seen flashing blue and red lights in their rear view mirror, and has had a few drinks, is probably concerned. They’re worried about all the bad things that could happen if they’re charged with a DUI. They could spend time in jail, pay fines, lose their license, or even their job.
Anytime anyone is pulled over by the police, they also have a right to protection against unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The founders of this country thought this right was so important they included it in the Bill of Rights.
DUI Traffic Stops
In Florida, police can make a DUI traffic stop when they have reasonable suspicion that a person is driving under the influence. Florida law states that anyone whose blood alcohol level is above 0.08 while they are driving can be charged with a DUI. Most people aren’t aware of how many drinks it takes for them to reach the legal limit. The number is different for each person and depends on their weight, what they’ve eaten, and even their genetics.
It’s important to remember the following things if you are ever pulled over for a DUI traffic stop or you encounter a DUI checkpoint:
- Stay calm – If you stay calm, it’s more likely the police officer will stay calm, as well. When emotions are high, bad things can happen.
- Breathalyzers – Under Florida law, if you hold a driver’s license you have automatically consented to a breathalyzer test. If you refuse, your license will automatically be suspended for up to one year, and the police officer can arrest you.
If you are wondering whether you’ve had too many drinks, it’s always cheaper to get a cab than a DUI. But if you do get a DUI, it’s almost always cheaper to get a lawyer than to plead guilty.
The Fourth Amendment
If the police arrest someone for a DUI, they may want to search their vehicle. Sometimes police do this for their own safety. They want to make sure the person doesn’t have any weapons. Other times, police may want to search the car to try to find evidence of other crimes, such as illegal drugs. But just because the police want to search a car doesn’t mean they have the right to search the car.
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. If a police officer wants to search a car during a DUI traffic stop, they must have a reasonable belief that the driver was under the influence or that evidence of alcohol or drugs may be found in the vehicle. If they see this kind of evidence in the car just by looking in the windows, then they can search the vehicle. This is called evidence “in plain sight.” But if they can’t see the evidence, they must have some other legal reason to search the vehicle without getting a warrant from a judge.
DUI Search and Seizure
Simply driving out of a bar parking lot at closing time isn’t sufficient evidence for a police officer to make a DUI traffic stop. So long as the driver hasn’t violated any traffic laws and isn’t swerving around their lane, the police have no cause to pull them over. If they do, they may have violated the person’s Fourth Amendment rights and any evidence found during a search could be inadmissible in court.
In order to search a vehicle during a DUI traffic stop, police must have some evidence to rely on. This can include:
- Swerving in and out of traffic lanes
- Speeding or driving too slowly
- Erratic driving
- The smell of alcohol
If the police pull a person over and encounter any of these circumstances, they may have a legitimate reason to conduct a warrantless search of the vehicle. But if the police don’t have cause to search the vehicle and do so anyway, the officer may have violated the person’s Fourth Amendment rights. Unless the driver has an attorney fighting for them, they may not be aware that the police violated their rights.
Seasoned DUI defense lawyers can conduct independent investigations on behalf of their clients. They want to make sure any stop or search was done in accordance with the law. If the police officer who made the stop did not have a reasonable belief that our client had alcohol or other drugs in their car, any evidence the police found in a search could be thrown out of court. In such a case, the evidence cannot be used against our client, and they may have a good chance of having their case thrown out altogether. Without evidence from the search, the prosecutor may not have enough evidence to prove the DUI and may drop the charges.
What’s more, if the police violated a client’s Fourth Amendment rights, they may bring a lawsuit against the police officer and department who made the illegal search. Most people wouldn’t know this was an option unless they have a trusted legal adviser on their side looking out for their best interests. There is nothing better than having this kind of knowledge and experience working for DUI clients.
Contact a DUI Defense Lawyer Right Away
Anyone who has been charged with a DUI is worried, angry, and frustrated. They’re wondering how they’re going to move forward putting their lives back together. That’s where an experienced DUI attorney comes in, to focus on the legal complexities of the DUI defense so clients can focus on getting their lives in order.
If you are charged with a DUI, contact a DUI defense lawyer to discuss your case in detail, look at all the angles, and conduct an independent investigation, if necessary, to determine if you have a good case.
Don’t delay. The clock is already ticking on the amount of time you have to respond to the DUI charge and enter a plea. If you wait too long, your options may be limited.