In most DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs) cases in Florida, a police officer will observe a person driving erratically or violate a traffic law and pull that driver over. The police officer will claim to observe evidence that the driver is impaired from alcohol or drugs and proceed with a DUI investigation that includes questioning, field sobriety tests (if the driver agrees) and a request to submit to the breathalyzer machine. There are other ways for DUI cases to start (an accident, a DUI checkpoint, a driver asleep in a parked vehicle), but this is the most common.
However, in a recent DUI case near Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer responded to a incident at a local bar. He observed the defendant next to her car, and believed that she was highly intoxicated. He told her not to drive and warned her that he would pull her over if he saw her on the roads. Approximately an hour later, the police officer drove to the bar and saw the suspect drive her car drive out of the parking lot. Although she had not violated any traffic laws, he pulled her over. He conducted a DUI investigation, determined that she was drunk driving and arrested her for DUI.
The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence and have the DUI case dismissed because the police officer did not have a legal basis for stopping the defendant. A police officer must have probable cause to stop a driver, and that almost always comes from actually observing the driver commit a traffic violation. At a minimum, a police officer normally has to testify that he/she observed the suspect drive erratically which prompted the officer to conduct a traffic stop and investigate a possible DUI. In this case, there was no such improper driving.
The court denied the motion. The court ruled that the police officer’s testimony about his observations an hour earlier were sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion that the defendant was still impaired while driving. Based on this reasonable suspicion of impaired driving and a concern for public safety, the police officer was permitted to stop the defendant and investigate for a DUI. This is a fairly unique situation that really sounds like a purely subjective judgment call. The fact that the officer testified that the defendant was extremely intoxicated and there was no way, in his opinion, that she could be sober in only an hour was sufficient for the court to rule in the state’s favor. Normally, the police officer is going to have to observe some type of traffic violation to pull a driver over. If this happened the way the officer testified, it is not the kind of situation that would happen often because most people are not dumb enough to drive after being warned by a police officer an hour earlier.