The police pull you over one rainy night in New Jersey. You can tell that the officer is on edge as soon as they get to the window. They quickly ask you to step out of the car and do some field sobriety tests because they think that you are intoxicated.
You get out and fail the tests. You claim it’s because of the rain, the mud, the slick ground on the side of the road. It’s hard to walk in a straight line in those conditions. The police say you are intoxicated and they arrest you.
Afterward, you start thinking back over what happened, and you realize that you don’t know why they pulled you over in the first place. Was the traffic stop even legal? Did they just randomly pull you over to see if they could get you to fail a test? Did they profile you based on your race or your age and assume you must be drunk to be driving at that time of night?
Police must have a reason
The first thing to remember here is that random stops are illegal, as are stops based on things like racial profiling. One of the requirements for a traffic stop is that the police have a reason for the stop. The courts call this probable cause.
After all, they didn’t give you those tests that they claim you failed until after the stop. If you didn’t break the law or give them a reason for the stop, they can’t administer the tests. Everything has to happen in the proper order.
So, what are some of the reasons they use? Police often look for minor infractions, especially when they are searching for drunk drivers. For instance, they can pull you over for a broken headlight or taillight. That gives them an excuse to talk to you, after which they can claim that you slurred your words or that they smelled alcohol.
Another example is if you break a traffic law. Maybe you were going 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. Maybe you rolled through a stop sign. Maybe you changed lanes without using your blinker. These may sound like minor issues, but they’re enough for a stop.
Of course, police also look for clear signs of intoxication, such as a car that is swerving all over the road or a driver who goes off of the shoulder and almost hits a parked car. Even so, they need a reason.
Do you think they stopped you illegally? No matter what happened with those field tests, they may have violated your rights, and you have to know all of the legal options that gives you.