In Florida, most DUI investigations start after a police officer observes the suspect driving erratically or violating a traffic law. However, some DUI cases start fairly innocently after a police officer is just checking to make sure a person is alright. Normally, a police officer needs to have reasonable suspicion that a person is committing a crime or probable cause to believe he violated a traffic law before the police officer can stop a driver. However, in some cases, a police officer can investigate if the circumstances indicate a person may be sick or in some kind of trouble.
In a recent DUI case near Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer observed the defendant driving a vehicle that was coming to a stop on the side of the road because it had four flat tires. The defendant was not breaking the law in any way, but the police officer stopped to see if the defendant needed any assistance. After talking to the driver for a few minutes, the police officer claimed he smelled an odor of alcohol and observed the usual signs of impairment from alcohol that the police officers always put in their DUI arrest reports. The police officer then proceeded into a DUI investigation and ultimately arrested the defendant for DUI.
The criminal defense lawyer challenged the arrest claiming the police officer did not have a legal basis to investigate the defendant for DUI or any other crime. The defense challenge was denied. Even where the police officer has no specific evidence of wrongdoing on the part of a driver, the police officer can approach a driver if it appears that he/she may be in trouble or otherwise needs assistance. If, at that point, it appears that the driver is drunk or is involved in any other criminal activity, the police officer can proceed with a criminal investigation.