Probable cause vs. reasonable suspicion for DWI stops

Police officers in New York cannot just pull people over because they feel like it. Before a legal traffic stop can take place, an officer must reasonably suspect that the driver has committed a crime. Likewise, police cannot just arrest a person at a traffic stop unless they have probable cause to do so.

Reasonable suspicion as it applies to DWI

A police officer can only pull a suspected drunk driver over if the driver has done something to warrant the suspicion. Since the standard for reasonable suspicion is lower than it is for probable cause, a driver could potentially be pulled over for any minor traffic violation. Someone may also be pulled over for erratic behavior, like frequent braking, driving too close to the center lane or driving too slowly.

Reasonable suspicion allows a police officer to pull a driver over, but it is not enough to enable the officer to make an arrest. To arrest a driver for a suspected DWI, a police officer must first have probable cause.

What is probable cause for DWI?

The standard for probable cause is higher than the standard for reasonable suspicion. To have probable cause, the police officer must have evidence that the driver is probably drunk. A slight suspicion that a person may be guilty of DWI after seeing him or her swerve in his or her lane is not enough. Some examples of probable cause include:

  • A failed field sobriety test
  • A failed breath test
  • Physical signs of intoxication

Arrests with no reasonable suspicion or probable cause

If a police officer stops a vehicle without reasonable suspicion and then makes an arrest without probable cause, the DWI case may be dismissed. In situations like this, a criminal defense attorney may argue that the traffic stop was illegal. Sometimes, even if a defendant was intoxicated, an illegal traffic stop can render the whole case invalid.

Challenging field sobriety tests in New York

New York’s implied consent law requires drivers in the Empire State to submit to chemical tests to determine whether or not they are operating their vehicles while impaired by either drugs or alcohol, but it does not require them to take a field sobriety test when asked to do so by a police officer. The standardized field sobriety test was developed by scientists working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the International Association of Chiefs of Police and has been in use since the 1980s, but studies have revealed that it is often unreliable.

The standardized field sobriety test

Motorists who take a standardized field sobriety test actually take three separate tests. Failing these tests is not sufficient to prove impairment in court, but it does give police officers a good reason to request a breath test. The three parts of a standardized field sobriety test are:

  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus test is designed to detect involuntary eye movements and is performed by asking the subject to look at a pen or other object as it is moved from side to side and up and down by a police officer.
  • The walk and turn test measures coordination and an individual’s ability to follow directions. Subjects walk heel to toe for nine steps and then turn around and repeat the procedure.
  • The one leg stand tests balance and is performed by raising one foot about six inches off the ground while counting out loud.

Challenging a field sobriety test

The results of sobriety tests may be excluded when police officers ask DUI suspects to recite the alphabet backwards or perform other tasks that are not part of the official test. This evidence could also be challenged if the subject’s equilibrium and balance could have been affected by their age, weight or a medical condition like an inner ear infection or neurological disorder.

Police training

Judging how a motorist performs during a field sobriety test is a subjective process, and police officers should be trained to know how to reliably spot signs of impairment. When law enforcement officers do not receive this important training, this evidence could be challenged and excluded.

Conditional license after a DWI

After being arrested or convicted of a DWI, it is important for you to take steps to resolve the matter as quickly as possible. You may also need some clarification about your rights after your charge. This will keep you from violating any additional laws so you can settle this legal issue correctly. One of the penalties often associated with a DWI is a suspended license. However, if you live in New York and this is the state where the DWI occurred, you may be eligible for a conditional license. Here are some important things you need to know when it comes to reinstating your license.

Conditional or restricted use licenses

You can visit your local DMV office to apply for a condition or restricted use license after a DWI. Most motor vehicle locations offer this service so check for the office near you according to your zip code.

The DMW will provide you with a conditional license if you’re a qualified driver with a New York license that was revoked or suspended due to a violation related to alcohol or drug use. You’ll be required to attend the Impaired Driver Program to receive your license.

You can also apply for a restricted-use license if your license was taken away due to traffic violations that are not alcohol or drug-related.

Drivers from other states

If you get a DWI and your driver’s license was not issued in New York, you can still receive conditional or restricted driving privileges if you meet the other necessary requirements. The license will give you the right to drive in the state of New York and the restrictions and conditions will be the same for you as it would be for an individual with a New York license.

Speak with a qualified DWI lawyer to learn about your rights after your license is suspended or revoked so you’ll know how to move forward with your case.

The various ways to challenge a DUI charge

If you are charged with DUI, there is no guarantee that you’ll actually be convicted of the crime. Throughout the legal process, you will be given several opportunities to present evidence that contradicts claims made by law enforcement in New York. There is also a chance that evidence will be ruled inadmissible by the judge overseeing your case.

Test results aren’t always accurate

During a traffic stop, an officer will likely ask you to submit to a chemical test if he or she has reason to believe that you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The results of such a test may be used as a basis to take you into custody. However, there is a chance that the results were inaccurate.

For instance, it’s possible that a blood alcohol reading registered by a Breathalyzer was inflated because of a calibration error. This may also occur if you ate a breath mint, vomited or put on cologne before providing a breath sample. Your DUI attorney may be able to introduce evidence during trial that supports the idea that something like this occurred in your matter.

Was there probable cause to stop your vehicle?

If there was no probable cause to stop your vehicle, the results of a chemical test will likely be thrown out. It’s also possible that any license suspension related to your refusal to take such a test will be thrown out as well. As a general rule, an officer would have probable cause to conduct a traffic stop if they observed your car swerving or traveling at an excessive rate of speed. However, they couldn’t stop your vehicle simply because it was located near a bar or because you were driving late at night.

An attorney may seek to suppress evidence, cast doubt on witness testimony or take other steps to help you obtain a favorable outcome in a DUI case. These actions might result in an acquittal, a plea deal or a case getting dismissed before it is able to go to trial.

Arraignment hearings in New York

Individuals in New York who are arrested for the first time are often nervous during their arraignment hearings as it is usually the first time they have faced a judge in a courtroom. During an arraignment, the defendant pleads guilty or not guilty to the charges against them. The judge then enters the plea and decides whether the defendant should be released on their own recognizance, released after posting bail or remanded to custody. No witnesses are called during an arraignment hearing, and no evidence is presented. In many cases, defendants let their attorneys enter their plea for them and do not even speak during their arraignments.

Setting bail

The main purpose of an arraignment hearing is to determine whether the defendant should remain in custody or be released. The factors judges consider when making these decisions include:

  • The nature of the crime the defendant is accused of committing
  • The defendant’s prior criminal record
  • The defendant’s employment status
  • The defendant’s ties to the community
  • The perceived threat the defendant poses to the public
  • The risk that the defendant will flee the jurisdiction

Defendants who are accused of serious crimes like murder or who were apprehended while fleeing law enforcement may face high bail or remand. However, first-time offenders charged with minor crimes are usually released on their own recognizance.

Plea offers

When the defendant is charged with a misdemeanor offense and the facts of the case are clear, the prosecutor may make a plea offer before the arraignment hearing begins. If this offer is accepted by the defendant, the judge hands down a sentence after the plea is entered instead of setting bail. Arraignment hearings are handled briskly and rarely last more than five minutes.

The right to an attorney

Being convicted of even a minor criminal offense can cast a long shadow in a person’s life. If you are arrested and charged with a crime, you have the right to be represented by a criminal defense attorney at your arraignment. An experienced attorney may argue that you should be released on your own recognizance or your bail should be lowered. An attorney might also negotiate with the prosecutor to improve the terms of their plea offer.

Aggravated DWI penalties in New York

New York treats drunk driving offenses harshly. The penalties you might face for an aggravated DWI are even more severe. You can be charged with an aggravated DWI when your blood alcohol concentration tests at .18 or higher within two hours of your arrest. Aggravated DWIs carry more serious penalties than a standard DWI, and prosecutors are limited in how they can plea bargain this type of offense to a lower offense.

Penalties for a first aggravated DWI

If you are convicted of an aggravated DWI as a first offense, you will face the following potential penalties:

  • Misdemeanor on your record
  • Jail for up to one year
  • Fine from $1,000 up to $2,500
  • Probation of up to three years
  • License revocation of 12 months
  • Victim impact panel attendance

The penalties will be even more severe if you have had a prior alcohol-related conviction within the past 10 years.

Penalties for a second or subsequent aggravated DWI

If you are convicted of an aggravated DWI and have a prior driving while ability impaired or driving while intoxicated conviction within the past 10 years, a second aggravated DWI conviction will be a felony. The penalties for a second aggravated DWI conviction within 10 years of an earlier alcohol-related offense include the following:

  • Felony on your record
  • Imprisonment for up to four years
  • Fine from $1,000 up to $5,000
  • Probation of up to three years
  • License revocation of 18 months
  • Victim impact panel attendance

A felony conviction can also have collateral consequences on other areas of your life that might continue long after your sentence has been discharged and completed. For example, people who have felony convictions might be prevented from purchasing firearms and might also struggle to find employment. Felony aggravated DWI convictions can also result in a loss of a professional license, trouble being approved for housing, and other issues.

Open container law in New York

Drinking or possessing an alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle while in New York can have serious consequences. If you’re drinking alcohol or consuming any form of cannabis, or there’s an open container of an alcoholic beverage in your car while you’re on a public highway or right-of-way public highway, you could face legal action. You and anyone in the car with you will be guilty of a traffic violation. If you’re a New York resident, here are some important things you should know to avoid a DUI/DWI charge.

More on the NY open container rule

In the state of New York, alcohol or cannabis consumption is not permitted in a vehicle. If the driver or passengers are found with an open container that contains an alcoholic beverage, they will receive a citation. While drinking in a vehicle on a public highway in New York is illegal, there is an exception for passenger vehicles. It is also not illegal to have empty containers in a vehicle that previously contained alcohol. This often presents a technicality in DUI/DWI situations, especially if an officer is not able to prove that the driver or passengers were consuming alcohol while the vehicle was moving.

What is considered a passenger vehicle in New York?

For the purpose of determining whether someone is guilty of a DUI/DWI, a passenger vehicle is classified as a vehicle that is designed to carry ten or more individuals and used for the purpose of transporting people for hire or profit.

If you’ve been charged with a DUI or DWI, it’s important to get a qualified lawyer to represent you as soon as possible. Be sure to explain all the details of your case and present any evidence you have to your attorney so you are able to receive the assistance you need.

An overview of the New York Impaired Driver Program

New York’s Impaired Driver Program, which was once called the Drinking Driver Program, gives individuals who have been convicted of driving while intoxicated to regain their driver’s licenses or reduce the amount of time that their driving privileges are suspended. Most participants choose to enter the program voluntarily, but some offenders are ordered to participate by the judge who sentences them. Individuals who have completed the program or have two or more drunk driving convictions in the last five years may be ordered to participate, but completion will not restore their driving privileges.

Classroom sessions

Before the Impaired Driver Program begins, participants undergo screening designed to identify factors that would make them more likely to develop substance abuse problems. Participants who are deemed to be at high risk are required to contact a treatment provider approved by the New York Office of Addiction Services and Supports for a clinical evaluation. The program consists of seven weekly sessions held in a classroom environment that last for between two and three hours. The total length of the program is about 16 hours. During the classes, participants are told about the dangers of alcohol consumption and drug use and learn about ways to avoid or change destructive behavior.

IDP fees

Individuals who wish to participate in the IDP must first pay a $75 fee to the Department of Motor Vehicles. This fee is nonrefundable. There is an additional enrollment fee as well. Individuals who meet the program requirement are given a Notice of Completion after the last session. Failing to attend the sessions or pay the fee can lead to an individual losing their conditional driver’s license and being dropped from the program.

Drunk driving defenses

Motorists arrested for DWI are not required to participate in the IDP if the charges against them are dropped or dismissed. Experienced criminal defense attorneys could argue that drunk driving charges should be dismissed if police officers initiated a traffic stop without probable cause or conducted toxicology tests using defective equipment.