Probable cause is a legal standard that law enforcement must meet before officers can make a lawful arrest. In essence, it means that – given a specific set of circumstances and facts – a reasonable person would conclude that a crime either is in process or has already been committed.
What does that look like in terms of an arrest for driving under the influence (DUI) or drug possession? Consider these examples.
An officer’s observations about your behavior and circumstances
Your behavior and the circumstances surrounding a traffic stop, as observed by the arresting officer and others, can be a big factor in establishing probable cause for an arrest. Officers may pull you over for a simple traffic violation, then take note of what appears to be an altered mental state. Slurred speech, unfocused eyes, the odor or alcohol or marijuana on your person and disoriented responses to their questions can all indicate that a driver is impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Field sobriety tests (FSTs) and positive chemical testing
If you’re pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving, an officer may ask you to participate in field sobriety testing, which includes a walk-and-turn test, the one-leg stand test or the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. The results of these tests (combined with the officer’s observations), can be used to establish probable cause for a DUI arrest.
Chemical testing, too, can be used to establish impairment by drugs or alcohol. If a driver fails a breathalyzer test with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level above the legal limit of 0.08%, that’s enough probable cause for an arrest. Similarly, if the police are able to obtain a positive illegal drug test through a blood or urine sample, that could be enough for a drug possession charge. If drugs or drug paraphernalia are in plain view, that can constitute probable cause for drug possession charges. Similarly, an open container of alcohol tucked in your cup holder could also constitute probable cause for a drunk driving arrest.
It’s important to note that the specific circumstances surrounding each case can influence the determination of probable cause. If you have concerns or questions about your situation, it’s always best to seek legal guidance in order to receive feedback that is specific to your case.