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Police Officer in Florida Cannot Arrest a Suspect for a DUI the Officer Does Not Witness

In Florida, most DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs) cases are the result of a police officer claiming to observe a suspect violating some traffic law while driving, after which the officer conducts a traffic stop and DUI investigation.  Other times, which occur in the Jacksonville, Florida area from time to time, the police set up a DUI roadblock and check drivers as they pass through the checkpoint.  In these cases, the police observe the suspect driving the vehicle, and if they can prove the driver was impaired from alcohol or drugs, the police observe all of the elements necessary to prove a DUI charge ad can move forward with a DUI arrest.

This is important because there is a law in Florida that essentially says the police cannot arrest a person for most misdemeanors unless the police actually observe the suspect commit the misdemeanor crime.  Again, this usually is not an issue in DUI cases because most DUI cases result from traffic stops.  But, there is a small subset of DUI cases where this can be an issue for a criminal defense lawyer to pursue.  For instance, consider a case where a civilian or even a non-state law enforcement official observes a suspect driving while impaired and calls the local police to report it.  When the police locates the DUI suspect, the suspect has already parked and exited the vehicle.  The police officer might conduct a DUI investigation and determine that the suspect was impaired from alcohol or drugs, but the police officer cannot arrest the suspect for DUI.  In this case, someone might have seen the suspect driving while impaired, but the police officer did not.  If the police officer did not observe that element of the crime, the police officer cannot arrest the driver for DUI.

There are two exceptions to this rule.  Local police officers who have authority to investigate such crimes can relay the required information to another police officer who can make an arrest.  For instance, police officer A observes a suspect driving erratically and pulls the suspect over.  Police officer B arrives to take over the DUI investigation and police officer A tells officer B what he observed.  Officer B finishes the DUI investigation and arrests the driver.  Fellow officers are considered interchangeable in this scenario.  The other exception involves traffic crashes.  A police officer who responds to just about any type of crash that involves an injury and/or any property damage can investigate the case for a potential DUI and make an arrest even if the police officer arrived after the crash and did not observe anyone driving.  The state still must prove the DUI suspect was driving or in control of the vehicle, but the police do not need to have observed it for an arrest in these types of DUI cases.