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Tampa Criminal Attorney > Blog > DUI > DUI Reasonable Suspicion: Parts One and Two

DUI Reasonable Suspicion: Parts One and Two


In most cases, police officers must have reasonable suspicion, which is basically an evidence-based hunch of criminal activity, to detain people and investigate crimes. DUI roadblocks, which are legal in Florida and most other states, are the primary exception to this rule. At checkpoints, officers may detain motorists according to a preset formula, whether they have reasonable suspicion or not. However, this liberty only applies to Part One. More on that below.

Reasonable suspicion is a very low standard of evidence. But if a Tampa DUI lawyer successfully challenges reasonable suspicion, either part one or two, the arrest is invalid and any evidence officers obtained as a result of the illegal arrest, like a chemical test result, is inadmissible in court. The state has the burden of proof to establish reasonable suspicion and all other elements of a criminal offense. A defense attorney must only create a reasonable doubt as to the evidence.

Reasonable Suspicion Part One

Traffic violations and informer tips prompt most DUI stops. Reasonable suspicion is relatively easy to establish in the first instance, and almost impossible to establish in the latter instance.

A traffic violation could be a non-moving violation, like an expired tag, or a moving violation, like speeding. Courts have consistently held that even the slightest, ticky-tack violation is sufficient.

Not long ago, a federal judge in Iowa ruled that officers could legally pull over a driver who was traveling 1mph over the speed limit, even though they knew the case wouldn’t hold up in court. 1mph is within a RADAR gun’s margin of error.

Informer tips are at the opposite end of the spectrum. This information is almost inherently unreliable. That’s especially true if an anonymous informant provided the information. If the tipster isn’t willing to vouch for the information’s reliability, the court shouldn’t accept it. Many anonymous tipsters are basically tattletales. They call the police so another person will get in trouble.

Incidentally, there’s a difference between reliability and accuracy. A blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut, but a blind squirrel is clearly unreliable.

Sometimes, prosecutors can overcome this presumption of unreliability if the tipster gave specific information (e.g. blue SUV with license plate number ending in SL).

Part Two

The DUI investigation is Part Two. Evidence gathered at the scene and the suspect’s admissions could allow an officer to proceed to the next step, which is usually a Field Sobriety Test evaluation (walking a straight line, etc.).

In Florida, the evidence available at the scene of the crime usually includes circumstantial physical evidence, such as:

  • Odor of alcohol,
  • Bloodshot eyes,
  • Slow reflexes, and
  • Slurred speech.

Individually, these physical symptoms prove almost nothing. Alcohol consumption, fatigue, cigarette smoke, and many other things could cause bloodshot eyes. But the burden of proof is so low that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

The suspect’s admissions about alcohol consumption are usually admissible as well. Once again, the suspect needs only admit to drinking one or two beers, since the burden of proof is so low.

Incidentally, suspects don’t have to answer these questions. The Fifth Amendment’s rights go into effect when officers ask questions and suspects don’t reasonably feel free to leave. However, suspects must still comply with basic “step out of the car” commands.

Reach Out to a Compassionate Hillsborough County Attorney

A criminal charge is not the same thing as a criminal conviction. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, contact the OA Law Firm. Virtual, home, and jail visits are available.



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