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Understanding Reasonable Suspicion and DUI Arrests


In 2017, there were nearly 20,000 driving-under-the-influence-related arrests, with a slight increase from the year before. Troopers are certified as drug recognition experts to make DUI arrests. When they pull you over, they are looking keenly for physical and psychological signs of impairment under an array of drugs. Knowing your rights in the event of being pulled over is important, but you must also be aware of the legality behind searches and seizures.

Stopping Your Car

Traffic stops fall under the “seizure” category under the Fourth Amendment. Under the Pennsylvania and U.S., police can stop a car without a warrant. All they need is reasonable suspicion of driving under the influence. An officer might pull over a car if they notice it swerving all over the road or driving too slowly or too fast. But, an officer could inquire about a DUI if you are pulled over for another traffic violation, like going through a stop sign or having a broken tail light. Officers may also stop your car if they are conducting sobriety checkpoints. Those must follow certain procedures to ensure the stops are legal and not solely based on an officer’s whim. You are allowed to drive away to avoid a sobriety checkpoint, but not after you enter the police patrolled car line.

Can I Be Arrested on Probable Cause?

Yes. An officer can make an arrest once they establish the likelihood a driver is impaired. They will make that determination by noticing certain physical signs, like bloodshot eyes, or alcohol on your breath, or behavioral attributes like slurred speech or other furtive or unusual behavior (like hiding something). Once their suspicions are aroused, they will then ask for “field sobriety” or breath test. Preliminary breath tests are not admissible in court but will serve as a cause for police to make an arrest. You can choose to refuse a breathalyzer test, BUT it may cause more harm than good, as the penalties of refusing a test may be worse than the first offense conviction. In Pennsylvania, refusal after warning will cost you your license for one (1) year, irrespective if you are not charged with any crime. It is called the “implied consent” law.

Was My Arrest Legal?

In Pennsylvania, police are able to search your car if they smell alcohol, or, increasingly marijuana, or see any paraphernalia (plastic baggies with residue, pipes, lots of rubber bands) that could establish any probable cause you were in fact, driving under the influence. They must, however, clearly state why they are stopping you and searching your car. Otherwise, the stop could be found unconstitutional. If there is no reasonable suspicion or cause for the stop, most evidence will be found inadmissible in court, provided you have a good lawyer that can file a motion to support this illegally gained evidence.

Police are also allowed to detain you if they are investigating any suspicion of criminal activity. If they detain you for too long, or your detainment turns into a subsequent arrest without probable, that would be a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.

Get Legal Help

An experienced attorney is key to your next moves. Scranton DUI & Drug law lawyer Ernest D. Preate, Jr. Esquire has a wealth of experience and can help build a case to protect you against charges. If you feel an officer made an arrest without probable cause, make sure to call Ernest Preate right away. As the former 3 term District Attorney in Lackawanna County, and, now a tough defense attorney, he understands the complexities of Pennsylvania DUI laws to help you achieve the best results possible. Call the Scranton office at 570-209-9865 or contact the office online to set up a consultation today.


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Ernest D. Preate, Jr. Esquire

204 Wyoming Avenue
2nd Floor, Suite C
Scranton, Pennsylvania 18503
Phone: 570-209-9865
Fax: 570-558-5973

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