A police officer parks his car on the side of the interstate to watch the traffic go by. It’s right around 2:00 in the morning, and it’s a weekend. The officer knows there are drunk drivers out there. This is the time of the week when they’re most common. It’s just a matter of finding them.
However, the officer does not see any evidence of drunk driving. Can he just randomly pull cars over, looking for intoxicated drivers?
Police stops have to be reasonable
First and foremost, no, an officer cannot conduct random stops. Even if he understands, statistically, that there are drunk drivers in Florida right then, he cannot stop cars for no apparent reason in his efforts to find them. That violates the rights of the drivers who have done nothing wrong and who get pulled over anyway.
With some exceptions (like sobriety checkpoints), the police need to see some evidence that you’re breaking the law to stop your vehicle. For example, maybe a driver was swerving between lanes or stopping erratically. That doesn’t prove intoxication — a mechanical error within the car could be the cause of those things — but it does give the officer probable cause to stop the car and do a little investigation.
Cars can also be stopped for minor traffic violations. Maybe a driver has a headlight out, for example. The officer can pull the driver over to explain why that is unsafe and to tell them to fix it. If the officer then suspects that the driver is intoxicated while talking to them, it could turn into a DUI case. But it all starts with a reason for the stop.
Protecting your rights after an illegal traffic stop
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