How You Act in Public May Be Reasonable Suspicion to Pull You Over for Drunk Driving

Police car on the street

Here on the Edward M. Janzekovich law blog, we previously discussed how police officers cannot pull you over and require you to submit to alcohol or drug testing for no reason. Before an officer can ask you to step out of the car and perform a roadside sobriety test or arrest you and have you submit to a breathalyzer, the officer must have a legal reason to pull you over – a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that a motor vehicle or criminal offense had occurred.

In the recent case of State v. Ceglowski, which was decided earlier this month, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, confirmed that a citizen’s tip could be used to meet the reasonable, articulable suspicion standard. This means that an average citizen can call 911 and tell the operator that someone was acting drunk in public before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle, and this tip can form the basis of the legal reason used by an officer to pull the person over and eventually arrest him or her for driving under the influence.

Reasonable and Articulable Suspicion

A “reasonable, articulable suspicion” or “reasonable suspicion” is a legal standard under the law that basically requires a police officer to have a legitimate reason to believe that a driver has done something wrong before the officer can pull the driver over – such as speeding or driving without headlights. Remember that most drivers are not initially pulled over for drunk driving. Most drivers are first pulled over for a traffic violation.

Once a driver is pulled over, a police officer may make new observations that causes him or her to believe that the driver is intoxicated or drunk. At this point, the police officer needs to meet the standard of “probable cause” before the officer can arrest the driver for DUI/DWI and ask him or her to submit to a breathalyzer test. The standard of “reasonable suspicion” is lower than the standard of “probable cause.”

In either scenario, an officer cannot act randomly, and the officer cannot “act on a hunch” – the officer must be able to state his or her reasons for believing that “reasonable suspicion” or “probable cause” has been met. If the officer cannot state a legitimate reason for pulling a vehicle over or for asking a driver to submit to intoxication testing, then a good lawyer can argue to have the entire arrest dismissed and the charges dropped.

State v. Ceglowski

In State v. Ceglowski, a third-party citizen saw someone who appeared to be drunk and acting inappropriately inside and outside of a liquor store. The citizen then called the police department after she saw the person get behind the driver’s seat of a pickup truck. She was able to observe and report the license plate number and model of the vehicle. The driver was then pulled over by the police and arrested on charges of driving while intoxicated.

The driver subsequently argued in Court that the charges against him should be dropped because the call was insufficient and the police officer did not have a reasonable suspicion or legal basis for pulling him over in the first place. The Court disagreed, and the Appellate Division issued an opinion earlier this month confirming that a citizen can provide information to the police that sufficiently constitutes reasonable suspicion.

Depending on the circumstances, a good lawyer will be able to challenge a third-party tip to police, and the Court will decide if the tip is sufficient or credible based on a series of factors, including whether or not the tip was anonymous and how much information is provided to the police. Accordingly, if you or someone you know is pulled over and charged or arrested for DUI/DWI, it is important to contact a good attorney as soon as possible. An experienced lawyer will be able to determine if police acted properly when making the initial stop, or if the police officers lacked reasonable suspicion or probable cause. If any legal requirements are missing, the Court may be required to drop the charges completely.

New Jersey Drunk Driving Attorney Edward M. Janzekovich Is Ready to Fight the Charges Against You

If you or someone you know is charged with DUI or DWI, the government bears the burden of proof – which means that the government has to meet certain legal requirements to bring a case against you. If the police have acted inappropriately in any way, the evidence against you may be tainted and an experienced drunk driving attorney will be able fight the charges. If you are arrested for drunk driving in New Jersey, a good lawyer can make all the difference. To speak with an experienced New Jersey DWI lawyer about your situation, call us at 732-257-1137 or contact us online today. We serve clients throughout the state of New Jersey.