A Coatesville man is facing drunk driving charges after officers arrested him for several traffic violations, according to Chester County’s Daily Local News. On the afternoon of March 11, 2017, Downingtown police received a call from a witness who saw the man driving erratically and striking a guardrail. When they apprehended him, officers detected the odor of alcohol on the man’s breath and noted that he stumbled as he exited the vehicle. The witness report and officers’ accounts gave law enforcement ample reason to arrest the man for DUI, but there are other ways police can establish probable cause in a drunk driving incident. Some background on the legal concept of probable cause may be useful, but you should discuss the details of your case with a Pennsylvania DUI attorney if you’re facing similar charges.

 

Probable Cause 101 

In a criminal case such as DUI, probable cause is any sign that may lead an officer to reasonably believe that a crime has been or is being committed. In a case of suspected drunk driving, there must be some behavior that indicates impairment, such as erratic driving, violating traffic laws, or a collision. However, probable cause isn’t always as obvious as it was for the Coatesville man. Under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, there is a protection against unreasonable search and seizure, so an officer must have more than just a hunch.

 

Probable Cause in Pennsylvania DUI Cases

In general, probable cause requires facts that demonstrate a high probability that the driver is impaired or consumed alcohol in excess of the legal limit. Visual findings, such as a driver’s mannerisms, speech, or behavior, can be enough to meet probable cause standards. A police officer may also establish probable cause by other circumstances, including the smell of alcohol or open containers in the car.

In Pennsylvania, authorities may also use field sobriety tests to establish probable cause. The Walk-and-Turn and One-Leg-Stand tests are common. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test assesses your impairment by determining how well you can focus on a moving object, such as a pen.

After establishing probable cause, an officer can proceed to tests that provide more concrete evidence of drunk driving, including a breathalyzer or blood test. However, if police fail to identify facts that lead to probable cause to arrest you for DUI, any evidence gathered from that point on may not be admissible in court – which may lead to a dismissal in some cases.

 

Consult with a Chester County DUI Lawyer About Your Case

Even if you weren’t driving erratically or involved in a collision, there can still be questions about officers’ probable cause to charge you with DUI. You may be able to present defenses to fight the charges, but you need a qualified criminal defense lawyer to represent your interests and protect your civil rights. The attorneys at the Skinner Law Firm in West Chester, Pennsylvania, have the experience and legal background necessary to help you obtain the best possible result under Pennsylvania law. Please contact us with questions or to discuss your case in more detail.

Article Author

Michael J. Skinner, the founder of Skinner Law Firm LLC, is a former prosecutor with the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.

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