What is Probable Cause, and How Does it Apply to a DUI Stop in Alabama?
Being arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) can be a terrifying experience, and few drivers are prepared for what to do both during and after the event. Indeed, criminal law in Alabama is notoriously complex, and those unfamiliar with certain legal nuances may be jeopardizing their future.
One such legal concept is the idea of probable cause, a term that is often misused by the public, yet can have serious implications on the outcome of your case. Fortunately, our experienced Alabama Criminal Law Attorney has a deep understanding of probable cause, as well as all other aspects of state DUI law, and is eager to answer any other questions you may have and provide you with competent legal assistance.
What Exactly is Probable Cause?
Under Alabama law, “probable cause exists where the facts and circumstances within [an] officer’s knowledge…are sufficient to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been or is being committed.” Ultimately, this means that a police officer attains probable cause when they believe the person they have pulled over has committed a crime, which, in this case, involves driving under the influence.
Why is the concept of probable cause so important? According to the same portion of Alabama law mentioned above, an officer is provided the authority to arrest an individual without warrant only when probable cause exists, outside of other exceptions. This means that a police officer cannot simply place handcuffs on whomever they choose at any time; instead, the officer must be able to demonstrate that probable cause existed during the arrest for it to be considered valid in the eyes of the law.
Specifics of Probable Cause
Although the language of the law may seem fairly simple, it can have a strong effect on a DUI case in Alabama. To be sure, when defending against DUI charges in Alabama, a skilled criminal defense attorney will fight to overcome the prosecution’s claim that probable cause existed in the mind of the officer. As is detailed by the law, an arresting officer must have reason to believe that a crime has been or is being committed. This means that a phone call from an anonymous tip or a “hunch” does not provide valid reason to place a driver under arrest. Instead, probable cause must exist in the form of breath test results, results from a roadside sobriety test, or other tangible observations that were recorded at the scene and that hold weight as evidence. Here, the burden is put on the prosecution to show exactly what evidence is available to prove the existence of probable cause. In many cases, the defense can fight to show that evidence is inadmissible to acquit the defendant.
Furthermore, the wording of the law is also an important factor. As mentioned above, probable cause must be present in a man of reasonable caution; this means that an officer cannot simply jump to the conclusion that a crime has been committed without a degree of reasonableness. For example, an overly aggressive police officer may witness certain movements generally associated with being nervous, such as excessive blinking or swallowing, and conclude that the driver is intoxicated. In this case, a zealous criminal defense attorney could act quickly to provide evidence that rebuts the assumption that probable cause existed.
Difference Between Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion
Finally, it is important to note the difference between probable cause and reasonable suspicion, two legal terms that are often mistaken for one another. While probable cause deals with placing an individual under arrest, reasonable suspicion must be present before an officer can make a stop in the first place. Specifically, an officer does not have the authority to pull over anyone they choose without reason; the officer must have a reasonable suspicion that justifies the act. And while this is a looser standard than probable cause, the burden of proof still lies with the prosecution. Here, a skilled attorney may be able to demonstrate that reasonable suspicion did not exist prior to the DUI stop, at which point the case should be thrown out from the court.
Have You Been Arrested for DUI?
Overall, Alabama DUI law is complex, and anyone facing criminal charges in or around the Mobile area is advised to contact us today at the Law Office of Ginger Poynter LLC. By working with a talented Alabama attorney, you are helping to ensure your rights are protected throughout each step of your criminal case, and that you have the best odds moving forward. Don’t hesitate to call us today for a consultation at (251) 445-8313 or contact us online.