What evidence is needed to arrest someone suspected of drunk driving?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Despite all of the TV shows in which the police always say “you are under arrest,” for purposes of a defendant’s rights under U.S. laws, an arrest may occur long before those words are uttered. The courts have concluded that an arrest occurs when a reasonable person would conclude that his or her freedom has been significantly limited and that the suspect reasonably believes he is not free to leave.

Generally speaking, there are four types of evidence that a police officer will consider and gather in a drunk driving investigation: gross observations of behavior in general; specific observations of what are known as “field sobriety tests” (FST); information obtained from questioning the suspect; and chemical test results of the motorist’s blood, breath or urine.

A police officer may arrest a motorist for drunk driving if the cumulative effect of the evidence convinces the officer that he has “probable cause” or “reasonable cause” to make an arrest. This is a far lower standard than the one the state must prove at trial where the case must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Although this is a high standard, it is met every day in courts all over the country.

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