The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures. A police officer cannot just pull over a vehicle to meet a quota or because he or she feels like it. They must have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that a violation of the law has occurred, i.e., a traffic offense. In my experience as a Georgia DUI defense Lawyer, the most common alleged traffic offense is "failure to maintain lane." Most DUI officers in the state of Georgia have a dash cam which tapes the driving of the accused. Unfortunately, failure to maintain lane in Georgia is a very broad statute. A person can commit failure to maintain lane, especially by failing to keep within their lane of travel!
Speeding is probably the second most common traffic offense for which someone is stopped in a DUI case. Keep in mind that you can never be pulled over for DUI, as an officer does not know whether or not you are DUI until he or she sees manifestations of impairment. Some cases of failure to maintain lane and speeding are egregious, and some are very mild.
The trickier situations arise when there is not a traffic offense. With proper authority, officers are allowed to conduct sobriety checkpoints. These are an exception to the Constitution, and they need to be pre-approved, not random and appropriately marked. Some jurors are sympathetic to people who as stopped at roadblocks because the alleged drunk driver exhibits no poor driving.
In a Georgia DUI case, the defendant driver does not have to commit a traffic offense to be convicted of DUI; they only need to be proven “less safe” to drive due to intoxication by drugs or alcohol. Most DUI defense lawyers challenge the validity of the roadblock through legal motions to ensure that it was properly administered.
What about situations where there is no observed driving, no traffic violation, and no roadblock? These can and do lead to DUI arrests. Some cases begin when a person is sleeping in their car or sitting in a parked or stopped car.
Clients often ask if the officer is legally allowed to confront them, ask them to exit the vehicle, and then subsequently request field sobriety testing in situations when there is no observed driving. Unfortunately, the answer is generally yes. An officer is allowed to approach a person if it is what is known legally as a first-tier police-citizen encounter. This means that an officer cannot just randomly walk up to a person and start interrogating them, but a police officer who sees a person in an unusual situation can inquire if they are safe or if they need any assistance. Sometimes there are distressed motorists who legitimately need an officer's help.
An officer is allowed to initiate a conversation with a stopped driver and find out if they are in trouble. These kinds of stops often lead to very fightable cases. A person sometimes realizes they had too much to drink and is doing the right thing by "sleeping it off" in their car.
Some officers make the assumption this person drove drunk (via circumstantial evidence) and proceed with a DUI investigation and arrest. Our office has had great success in winning these cases and getting them reduced.
If you have been charged with a DUI in Georgia, remember you only have 30 days to appeal your license suspension. Call now!!