Why do so many people get charged with DUI?

Understanding probable cause for arrest in DUI cases.

DUI is a charge that affects a large segment of the population. It is a public safety crime that seems to occur across all demographics in society.

One theory as to why this happens is because people are so tempted to drive their own cars home, rather than find an alternative that could be potentially more burdensome. It just seems easier to drive oneself home rather than finding another way to get to where you’re going.

Before we understand why DUI charges are common, we need to understand that a charge is not necessarily a conviction. Anyone can be charged with DUI, but that doesn’t mean that they will be found guilty.

The issue that arises is that many police officers are trained to identify driving behaviors that can be linked to driving under the influence. So, if a person drinks some alcohol, and their driving behavior gets affected, it can result in a stop, even if the person is not technically intoxicated or driving under the influence.

Common reasons for the stop will be driving behaviors like an extra wide turn, weaving across traffic lines, speeding, a slow or delayed response to traffic signal, an accident, or running a stop sign. Then, if the officer suspects the driver consumed alcohol, the officer will ask if the person had anything to drink. If the answer is yes, the officer will use the admission to investigate further for DUI.

Many officers will look for other clues such as if the driver’s eyes appear bloodshot or “glassy”. Before placing someone under arrest however, the officer must establish probable cause for arrest or the arrest is illegal under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution.

So how do they add to the list of things that give them probable cause?

1. Field Sobriety Tests. The officer offers these to the driver and if you fail them, he adds them to support probable cause for arrest.
2. Admissions to drinking alcohol could help make the arrest legal.
3. In Virginia, a preliminary breath test is offered to the driver- a handheld breathalyzer that cannot be used in a trial against you, but is offered to the person to see roughly what their BAC is. If it’s higher than .08, it helps the officer establish probable cause for arrest. This is separate from the Intoxilyzer breath test offered at the police station which can be used in a trial.
4. General observations: odor of alcohol, slurred speech, inconsistent answers, evasiveness, unsteadiness on the feet, etc. can help establish probable cause for arrest.
5. Driving behavior that shows the operation of the motor vehicle may have been affected by alcohol consumption.

In conclusion, officers may stop an individual and make an arrest when they have enough facts and circumstances to lead them to reasonably believe a person may be intoxicated. However, proof beyond a reasonable doubt is needed to sustain a conviction. The point is that people should be aware of these tests and observations and limit any driving after consuming alcohol that could lead to a stop. Lastly, one should be careful about any admissions they make to a police officer as those admissions could be used to enhance the officer’s case for probable cause for arrest.