Did The Officer Have Enough Evidence To Arrest Me for DWI?


It’s Saturday night, about 10:00 o’clock. You just finished a late dinner with friends where you consumed a little more than two glasses of wine over the course of two hours. You exit the restaurant and leave the parking lot to make the two-mile drive to your residence. As you approach the stop sign at the intersection of the main highway, you look for traffic in both directions and seeing none, roll through the stop sign and make a right turn.  Half way home you get a sick feeling in your stomach as you look in your rear view mirror and see the blue lights of a police cruiser directly behind you. You pull to the shoulder hoping he will pass you; he doesn’t.  You immediately begin to worry about the wine you had with dinner. The officer asks for your drivers license, advises that he smells alcohol, and ask if you have consumed any alcohol. The officer administers a portable breath test and a series of field sobriety tests. He places you under arrest and charges you with DWI. You felt fine and believe you did well on the sobriety tests. Your friends noticed nothing unusual about your behavior at dinner. Did the officer have enough evidence to arrest you? Did the officer have “probable cause” to arrest you for DWI?

What Is Probable Cause?

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 20 of the North Carolina Constitution prohibit an arrest absent probable cause. Probable cause is the legal standard the officer must satisfy before the arrest will be deemed legal and proper. When the court reviews the decision of the officer, it looks at the totality of circumstances known to the officer at the time of the arrest. The test is an objective review; the officer’s subjective opinions are not relevant. The court must determine whether there are reasonable grounds of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to warrant a cautious and prudent man to believe you are other than normal, physically and mentally or both, because of the consumption of alcohol and/or drugs.

What Does The Officer Consider When Forming His Opinion On Probable Cause?

The officer has been extensively trained in DWI detection and standardized field sobriety testing. He is provided forms to guide and document his investigation. The primary form is a “Driving While Impaired Report” (DWIR). The DWIR guides him, step by step, in his investigation. The investigation is structured into four phases. The officer first observes how you operate your vehicle prior to and during the stop. Second, after the stop, the officer observes the interior of your vehicle, how you appear, any odors, how you speak, your motor skills, and your answers to questions and any voluntary statements you make. Third, the officer typically administers a battery of three standardized field sobriety tests: the horizontal gaze nystagmus; the walk and turn; and the one leg stand tests. Finally, the office requests that you submit to two portable breath tests (PBT). The officer’s decision to arrest is based upon the totality of his investigation in these areas.

Can The Officer’s Opinion For Probable Cause Be Challenged?

Yes. The officer’s opinion is challenged in court by filing a motion to suppress the arrest. Once filed, the state has the burden of proving to the court that the officer had probable cause to arrest you for DWI. The court is tasked with objectively reviewing the evidence known to the officer at the time of the arrest and deciding whether it meets the standard for probable cause to arrest you for DWI. If you are successful, the arrest is deemed improper and illegal. The state would be required to file a dismissal of the charge against you, provided it does not wish to have the court’s decision reviewed by a higher court. Challenging the officer’s opinion on probable cause is often used to win a DWI case.

Do I Need To Hire An Attorney If I Am Charged With DWI?

I remember a defendant charged with DWI asking the judge in court this question early in my career. The judge said “well,.. I guess you could remove your own appendix with your pocket knife, but don’t you think a skilled surgeon will be more prudent?” An experienced attorney skilled in DWI defense is critical, and often the difference between wining and losing your case.  The officer arrested you based on his observations and opinions. Challenging those observations and opinions thoroughly and effectively can result in a successful challenge to the probable cause to arrest you for DWI.

How Can The Robinson Law Firm, P.A. Help You.

For over 30 years, we have helped those charged with DWI win their case. For over 22 years, we have taught other lawyers our secrets, strategies and techniques to win DWI cases. We are aggressive and thorough in our investigation, innovative and groundbreaking in our defense strategies, and relentless in our pursuit of a victory on your behalf. We aggressively obtain and review in-car, body cam, detention center, and surrounding scene videos, as well as, all officer notes, documents and reports. We carefully review the officer’s administration of standardized field sobriety tests and portable breath tests to determine if they were properly administered in accordance with the protocols established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. We critically examine, photograph and video the scene of your traffic stop. 

Let us help you win your case. Contact us today for a free consultation to learn how we can help you challenge probable cause and win your DWI case

Categories: Blog, DWI, Probable Cause