When Can an Officer Pull a Motorist Over Based on a Belief of Intoxication?

While getting pulled over may seem random – and indeed, sometimes it is – police officers are not permitted to pull motorists over for no reason. In fact, when a traffic stop is challenged, police officers must be able to articulate the reasons they relied upon for stopping a motorist. If a police officer does not have an adequate reason to stop a motorist, or impermissibly extends the length of a traffic stop in order to conduct an investigation unrelated to the reason for the stop, any evidence seized as a result of the stop must be suppressed.

Many police “fishing expeditions” begin with an officer stopping a motorist they believe is engaged in illegal activity for unjustifiable reasons. For example, a stop may be based on the way the person looks, or an aggressive – but not necessarily illegal – traffic maneuver. The same is true for a police officer’s reasons to search a car.

Of course, police are permitted to pull a motorist over for a traffic violation and may search a car when there is evidence of criminal activity readily observable inside the car. One of the most common reasons police officers use to justify both traffic stops and searches of a cars is a belief that the driver was intoxicated. However, evidence of intoxication is notoriously suspect because it is subjective and there is often a major lack of documentation.

For example, the odor of alcohol on a driver’s breath dissipates, as does the smell of freshly burned marijuana in a car. However, these are common reasons an officer uses to justify the search of a motorist’s car. Police use these tactics to initially justify a search in hopes that they find something. Once a substance is found, officers can then tailor their paperwork (and any subsequent testimony) according to what they found.

In a recent case, police stopped a motorist based on a belief that he was under the influence. This belief was formed when the police officer saw the driver driving five miles per hour under the speed limit and make a few unnecessary lane changes. Once the vehicle was pulled over, the police officer began asking questions to the motorist about drug trafficking, took the motorist’s pulse, and ultimately asked to search the car based on a belief that the motorist was either trafficking drugs or was under the influence.

The court upheld the officer’s search of the vehicle, although it occurred almost an hour after the motorist was pulled over. The court explained that the officer provided documentation of his reasons for both the initial stop as well as his decision to search the car.

The Importance of Witness Credibility in Arizona DUI Cases

Many Arizona DUI cases come down to the credibility of a police officer. While police officers are trained to testify credibly regardless of the underlying facts, they can often be caught off guard. Thus, in these cases, it is important to have an experienced Arizona DUI defense attorney assist in the preparation of a case in order to expose potential biases or inconsistencies in an officer’s story.

Have You Been Arrested for in Arizona DUI?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with an Arizona DUI offense, contact Attorney James E. Novak to discuss your case. Attorney Novak has decades of experience representing those who have been charged with Arizona DUIs, and other related offenses such as drug possession. To learn more about how Attorney Novak can help you defend against the charges you’re facing, call 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation.

Additional Resources:

Other Articles of Interest from The Law Office of James Novak’s Phoenix DUI Blog:

Arizona Appellate Court Upholds DUI Conviction Over Defendant’s Operation Challenge, Phoenix DUI Law Blog, July 19, 2018

Nearly 300 DUI Arrests Were Made in Arizona over 4th of July Weekend, Phoenix DUI Law Blog, July 9, 2018

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