Challenging The Stop In A Florida DUI Case
This exercise is still worthwhile and necessary, even though the Supreme Court has made the task much more difficult recently. Over the last several years, the Justices have handed down a series of decisions that expanded police power. The latest was 2018’s District of Columbia v. Wesby. This case flew under the radar but was incredibly important.
Neighbors alerted D.C. police to a rowdy house party. After brief questioning, officers determined that the person who threw the party neither owned the house nor had the proper permission. Instead of instructing everyone to go home, the police arrested all the partygoers for unlawful entry. Rather surprisingly, a unanimous Court affirmed the convictions, holding that “the officers made an entirely reasonable inference that the partygoers knew they did not have permission to be in the house.”
Some other recent cases, such as Utah v. Strieff and Heien v. North Carolina, contained similar rulings. Nevertheless, fighting a criminal law vehicle detention is still a challenge worth accepting.
What is the Reasonable Suspicion Rule and How Does It Work?
Officers may detain people if a combination of the facts they know at the time and their professional judgement warrants such a move. Most DUI stops involve a traffic violation, and these are in fact two-part stops.
In the first phase, the officer normally observes a traffic violation. This violation could be a moving violation, like speeding or making an illegal turn, or a nonmoving violation, like an expired sticker or non-working tail light. There are thousands of such violations in Florida law, and officers need only a strong belief that the defendant may have violated one of them.
The second stage is more complex. To take the stop from a routine traffic ticket to suspicion of DUI, Florida officers often cite information like:
- Erratic Driving: Alcohol inhibits motor skills, so people who drive irregularly could be intoxicated. They could also be mildly sleepy, lost, or distracted by their thoughts. None of these things are illegal or related to alcohol consumption.
- Odor of Alcohol: If the odor emanated from the driver’s breath, it proves that the defendant had been drinking. If the scent comes from the car or the defendant’s clothes, it only proves that the defendant had been around someone who was drinking.
- Bloodshot Eyes: Alcohol causes bloodshot eyes. Then again, so do allergies, cigarette smoking, fatigue, certain medications, sadness, and a host of other items.
All these arguments often score points with a Florida jury. Unfortunately, the officer usually asks something like “Have you been drinking?” and the defendant usually says something like “Just a beer or two.” That admission is enough for reasonable suspicion.
Why The Stop Matters in Port St. Lucie
If the reasonable suspicion is weak enough, the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine applies. The court disallows any subsequent events, even including dismal performance on field tests or a BAC above the legal limit. Without such evidence, there can be no successful prosecution.
In other cases, the Florida jury may see the officer as overly aggressive. As a result, they are more likely to question the officer’s conclusions. This dynamic is especially significant if the defendant was caught in a STEP patrol police dragnet.
Connect With Tenacious Lawyers
An invalid DUI stop usually means a not-guilty verdict at trial. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.