Many people believe there is nothing they can do but plead guilty after being arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) if they have been drinking. However, this is not true. If the police charge you with DUI, you may have strong defenses—even if you think you are guilty—that can result in the charges being dismissed or reduced to a much less serious offense. One legal defense is that the police lacked probable cause to arrest you. An experienced Virginia DUI attorney can help identify and prove this and other defenses.
Driving Behaviors Used to Establish Probable Cause for the Police to Charge You with DUI in Northern Virginia
The police must have probable cause to arrest you for DUI in Virginia. Often the police use a number of factors to establish probable cause. Observing you engaging in certain driving behaviors developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is one way that the police will justify pulling you over. Some of these erratic driving behaviors can include:
- Lane position. If you are having problems maintaining proper lane position, this may help establish probable cause. Examples of this include weaving, swerving, being in two lanes, and taking turns too widely.
- Speed and brakes. Stopping too far from a curve, parking at an abnormal angle, stopping suddenly, stopping past the traffic line at an intersection, and driving too slowly or too quickly are some of the speed and brake issues that may be used to justify you being pulled over.
- Vigilance. Driving in the wrong lane or wrong direction on the street, not using headlights, and improper use of signals are some vigilance problems that an officer may observe.
- Errors in judgment. Errors in judgment might also lead to a stop and DUI investigation. Tailgating another vehicle, making unsafe lane changes, or driving off the road are just a few judgment mistakes that can lead to an investigative stop.
Another way that the police can establish probable cause to arrest you for DUI is if you make statements about consuming alcohol. You want to avoid making any incriminating statements and do not want to discuss anything with the police until you have obtained the advice of an experienced attorney. You should not lie to police, as this could lead to other charges, but you have the right to remain silent and not answer questions.
Appearing Intoxicated May Also Be Considered When Determining Whether There Is Probable Cause for a DUI Arrest
If you appear intoxicated, this may be the basis of probable cause to arrest you. Glassy or bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, being unsteady on your feet when standing or walking, and an odor of alcohol on your breath can be considered signs that you are intoxicated, thereby justifying an arrest for DUI.
Field Sobriety Tests Used to Establish Probable Cause
Field sobriety tests (often referred to as FSTs) are a common tool used by the police to establish probable cause to charge someone with DUI. They test whether a person can follow instructions while performing physical tasks. There can be a number of defenses to the results of field sobriety tests, including the way that they are administered by the officer. Common field sobriety tests used in Virginia include:
- Walk-and-Turn. This test requires a person to walk nine steps in a straight line heel-to-toe and then turn around and do it again.
- One Leg Stand. A person performing this test must hold his leg out six inches off the ground while counting until the officer tells him to stop.
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN). The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus tests a driver’s eyes as they move side to side. It can detect an involuntary jerking of the person’s eyes, which is a sign of intoxication. The HGN is not accepted by all Northern Virginia trial courts as a reliable measure of intoxication.
Preliminary Breath Tests and Probable Cause in Fairfax DUI Cases
The preliminary breath test (PBT) is a breath test taken when an individual is stopped for DUI to measure his blood alcohol content (BAC). If the test indicates the presence of alcohol, the police will in most cases have probable cause to arrest a person at that point, even if there was no bad driving or any FSTs indicating intoxication.
It is important to know, however, that the PBT is completely voluntary. A driver can refuse to take this test without any negative consequences to them or their case. As with field sobriety tests, there are many ways to challenge preliminary breath test results—and the probable cause required to arrest you.
Were you arrested for DUI in Northern Virginia? You need an experienced lawyer to obtain the best possible outcome. Our skilled DUI attorneys have decades of experience defending clients facing drunk driving charges in Fairfax and throughout Northern Virginia. To learn how we can assist you, start an online chat today to schedule your free consultation.