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Probable Cause in an Ohio DUI Case

What is Probable Cause in a DUI Case?

Probable cause is a crucial component in an OVI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated) case. For an officer to legally pull you over, detain, and arrest you, the officer must have probable cause. Probable cause refers to the reasonable belief that you are involved in a crime in some way. This would include the belief that you are operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.

The probable cause requirement prevents officers from pulling people over for no real reason. In an OVI case, if the officer did not have probable cause to pull you over then all evidence they gathered will likely be inadmissible. Lucky for you, this means that you may have the charges dismissed.

 When you are charged with an OVI in Ohio arising from a suspected illegal arrest, you must be able to prove that there was not enough evidence generated prior to the arrest to allow that arrest to have ever happened in the first place.

When Does An Officer Have A Right To Pull You Over?

In determining whether there was probable cause or not the court will look at factors such as:

  • The location of the stop;
  • The time and day of the stop;
  • Erratic driving (speeding, weaving, etc.);
  • The suspect’s appearance;
  • The suspect’s impairments (slurred speech);
  • The odor of alcohol coming from the vehicle or the suspect’s person or breath;
  • The intensity of the odor of the alcohol;
  • The suspect’s attitude;
  • The suspect’s admissions of alcohol consumption.

It is important to realize that DUI checkpoints are perfectly legal. An officer may at random choose you. However, they must still have probable cause before they arrest you.

When Does An Officer Have Probable Cause To Arrest You?

Once you have been pulled over, the officer cannot just arrest you. The officer must be able to explain their suspicion and have actual cause for arresting you. The officer’s initial observations of the driver’s unusual behavior are not sufficient probable cause for an arrest although they are sufficient in establishing reasonable suspicion for the initial stop.

Probable cause for arrest is a higher standard than you have to meet in the probable cause requirement for pulling over a driver. The officer must take additional reasonable steps to confirm their suspicion(s). This probably means the officer asks you to exit the vehicle. The officer will then pay close attention to your actions and behavior. Specifically, the officer will be observing the following:

  • If you struggle to open the door;
  • If the vehicle is left in gear;
  • How you get out of the vehicle;
  • If you can follow the officer’s instructions;
  • If you can stand or are leaning against the vehicle; or
  • If you keep your hands on the vehicle for balance.

Once you have exited the vehicle the officer will instruct you to perform a “field sobriety tests.” These tests could be but are not limited to:

  • Walking along a straight line in a heel-touch-toe fashion;
  • Balancing on one foot for 30 seconds;
  • Reciting the alphabet;
  • Palm-patting;
  • Finger counting’
  • Closing your eyes, leaning your head back and bringing your index fingers to the tip of your nose; and
  • Examining your eyes.

Some officers will also use a device, often referred to as a breathalyzer, that is a portable breath test machine. The most important thing for you to understand is that you are not required to perform any of these roadside “tests” per Ohio law.

How Do I Find Out Whether I Was Stopped Without Probable Cause?

This is more complicated. The best thing you can do is speak with an experienced attorney. They may then pull the police report, investigate if need be, and try to match everything with your version of the facts. Because of this, it is very important you always pay close attention to the officer’s reason for stopping, detaining, or arresting you.

The courts look at the totality of the circumstances and facts to determine if there was enough to establish probable cause. If there was not, then the arrest was not proper, then any resulting chemical testing will be inadmissible.

I Was Stopped, Detained, Or Arrested Without Probable Cause. What Do I Do?

The best idea is to contact an experienced attorney to evaluate this. If you are in fact stopped and the officer’s reasoning for stopping, you was not supported by reasonable suspicion then it is likely the arrest lacked probable cause. If the arrest lacked probable cause, then it could be excluded. This is often known as the exclusionary rule. It usually requires the court to dismiss all of the evidence obtained after the officer’s improper actions.

Once this happens it is likely the charges will be dismissed because the state would have no evidence against you.

If I Was Stopped Without Probable Cause, Will The DMV Still Suspend My License?

No. If your case is dismissed for lack of probable cause, the DMV will reinstate your license.