One of the most common ways for defendants charged with DUI to successfully defend themselves is to scrutinize the manner in which the police stopped their car. Police officers must respect your rights pursuant to both the US and Pennsylvania constitutions, and DUI arrests made subject to unconstitutional police stops often result in a dismissal of charges. An experienced PA criminal defense attorney can fully assess your situation to determine whether your constitutional rights were violated and present a robust defense on your behalf, but below are a basic guidelines regarding when the police can and cannot stop your car in Pennsylvania.
Police Can Stop You if They Have Reasonable Suspicion
A police officer can order you to pull over if he has “reasonable suspicion” that you or another person in your car has violated the PA criminal or motor vehicle code. Reasonable suspicion does not mean that the officer necessarily has enough reason to arrest you, but that there is a suspicion of violation based on “articulable facts” which means that the officer has to point to some actual fact that justified pulling you over, and not a hunch. For example, loud music, the style of your car, or your appearance is likely not going to provide an officer with reasonable suspicion. On the other hand, if you make an illegal u-turn or throw an empty beer bottle out of your car, that might provide an officer with enough basis for reasonable suspicion. If, after the police officer stops you, he smells alcohol from the car or your words are slurred, that might form the basis for probable cause to arrest you.
The Supreme Court has ruled that sobriety checkpoints are legal, but that they must follow certain safeguards such as using a uniform formula for stopping cars (e.g. every third car) and not stopping cars based on the officers’ gut or whim. If you see a sobriety checkpoint ahead but can legally and safely maneuver away from the checkpoint, for example by turning onto a side street, you are allowed to do so.
When You Are Already Stopped
PA law makes a distinction between a “mere encounter” between the police and a driver and a “stop” which requires reasonable suspicion. If you are already stopped on the side of the road, and a police officer pulls over to see if you need assistance, then the officer does not need to have reasonable suspicion to approach you. But if the officer is pulling over not on the basis of your needing assistance but to investigate, then reasonable suspicion will be required and any ensuing criminal arrest could be thrown out if there was no reasonable suspicion. The difference between these two can be slight, but questions such as whether the officer activated his lights and siren can come into play. Again, speaking with an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you determine whether such a stop was constitutional or not in your case.
Speak with a PA Criminal Defense Attorney Today
At The Martin Law Firm, P.C., in Montgomery County, we are committed to defending your rights. Call us today for a free consultation with a PA criminal defense attorney today regarding your DUI arrest.