What Allows Police to Pull Someone Over for a DUI?

Posted by Ronald D. HeddingApr 15, 2022

This is a good question because many people feel like they were pulled over for no reason and feel that is wrong.  In other words, can the police pull people over for no reason, or do they have to have some legitimate reason to pull people over?

The answer to that question is, of course, no, they have to have a legitimate reason to pull somebody over.  This is not a police state where they can start pulling over vehicles randomly unless they set up a checkpoint and go through different requirements.

What Allows Police to Pull Someone Over for a DUI?

So, if they haven't set up a checkpoint and you're getting pulled over, the question is, what is the reason? There are various reasons they can pull somebody over.  Usually, it:

  • Has to do with some traffic violation;
  • If someone is weaving on the road, that's a traffic violation;
  • If someone is driving too fast;
  • If they commit some Vehicle Code violation;
  • Run a red light, make a right on a red without stopping.

There's a whole host of reasons – and unfortunately, it's difficult to challenge the police because it's your word against their word.

One good thing is that many police vehicles like California Highway Patrol have dashcam video.  If they have the dashcam video on and they're following you, and they claim you did something, and we later pull the tape, and it shows that you didn't do anything wrong and were lying, that could be a reason to overturn your case. 

Unfortunately, not all police vehicles have a video on them, and they don't always turn the tape on until the stop is over, so you don't get to capture the reason for the stop. 

In other words, the police know that people get the video, so they're cautious about when they turn that video on, not to put themselves in a position where the defense can argue that it was an illegal stop. Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will examine this topic in more detail below.

What Are Some Examples of Reasonable Suspicion to Stop?

Police must be able to recall specific observable driver actions to justify their traffic stop to investigate DUI crime.  Lawful police stops on reasonable suspicion tend to follow similar patterns, such as the following:

Speeding is Probable Cause to Pull Someone Over on a Traffic Stop
  • lane violations such as wandering or weaving across lines;
  • excessive speed over the legal limit;
  • unreasonably slow speed creating a driving hazard;
  • driving a vehicle at night without headlights;
  • wrong-way driving down one-way streets;
  • disobeying traffic signs such as running through a stop sign
  • running through red lights or failure to yield;
  • sitting in the traffic lane after the light turns green;
  • near-miss accidents, especially those avoided by other drivers;
  • frequent braking or riding the brake when not warranted;
  • u-turns and illegal turns against traffic laws or unsafe conditions;

Unlawful Police Stops in California

When you are driving on the street in California and not doing anything unlawful, police can't just pull you over on a traffic stop for no reason. In any police traffic stop, they are legally required to have probable cause to pull you over.

In the context of our criminal justice system, probable cause is any evidence making a reasonable person believe that a crime could have been committed or when proof of an offense is present in the place to be searched.

In other words, probable cause gives the police the legal authority to pull you over. For instance, a police officer will typically write in their report that they were justified in pulling you over because they observed you:

  • speeding,
  • running a red light,
  • driving a vehicle without headlights,
  • excessive braking of your car,
  • weaving in and out of lanes,
  • reckless driving, or
  • some other traffic law violations.

If the police officer pulled you over with probable cause, they could have violated your constitutional rights. Law enforcement officers must follow specific guidelines to pull you over during a traffic stop and conduct a roadside field sobriety test for suspected drunk driving.

If they pulled you over when you have not violated any laws or given them reasonable cause they are intoxicated, any seized evidence could be found inadmissible in court, and the charges dismissed. Motorists have Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights against unreasonable police searches and seizures and similar rights under California's state constitution.

The United States Supreme Court has interpreted those rights to mean that law enforcement can't legally make a traffic stop of a motorist without reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime is underway. Federal case law helps show what police must have observed and what they must be able to articulate to justify a traffic stop on reasonable suspicion.

Motions to Exclude Unlawfully Gained Evidence

Procedural rules in California criminal cases give a DUI defendant a way to enforce those rights and defeat the charges. An experienced DUI defense lawyer would file motions well before trial to exclude evidence gained from an illegal traffic stop by law enforcement.

If the trial judge decides to grant the motion and the prosecutor does not have enough other evidence to support the criminal charge, such as Vehicle Code 23152 VC, defense counsel would normally move for dismissal of the driving under the influence charges. Courts frequently order dismissal of charges after granting a motion to exclude if the prosecution hasn't already agreed to drop the charges.  

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Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

The bottom line is that to stop somebody for a DUI, the police will need a justifiable reason.  If they pull you over illegally and then later get a statement from you, get your breath, your blood, have you perform the field sobriety test, and then arrest you for a DUI.

DUI Defense Lawyers in Los Angeles

If your defense attorney can prove that the stop was illegal, they can argue that the prosecutor shouldn't be able to use what they call the fruit of the poisonous tree because of the unlawful stop. In other words, they shouldn't be able to use all of the good stuff they got after the stop to prove you guilty because the initial interaction was illegal. 

If we can show it was an illegal interaction, we can try to get rid of the DUI.  Of course, bearing in mind that the police realize that is one of the defense tactics, they try to do things the right way during their stop.  Unfortunately, they don't always do it the right way.

If you or a loved one is charged with a DUI and you need help, whatever the situation – maybe it's an illegal stop.  Perhaps you realize you did something wrong and want help – whatever the case may be. 

I've been doing this for 30 years.  I started off working for the prosecutors.  Then I worked for a superior court judge, and then, in the early 1990s, I began working for people just like you, defending them and getting the best results possible. The Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles County, and we offer a free case consultation by phone or by filling out our contact form.

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