Probable Cause and DWI: What You Need to Know

Probable cause is one of those legal terms that most people have heard at one time or another, but the exact meaning is not always clear. Generally speaking, probably cause is a term used for criminal law. The origin of the term in our country comes from the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which grants each of us the right to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures (arrests) by the police. It has been determined by our courts that in order for the police to make an arrest they must have one of two things – an arrest warrant issued by a judge, or probable cause. This standard applies to DWIs as well as any other criminal charge.

In a nutshell, before a police officer can arrest you on suspicion of DWI, he or she must have the necessary probable cause that you committed the offense. Just what amounts to probable cause is where the endless debate between police and the people they arrest arises.

Probable Cause in Texas

The U.S. Supreme Court has defined probable cause as the combination of facts and circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that a crime has occurred. In order for a police officer to say he or she had probable cause to make an arrest, the circumstances and fact must be within his or her knowledge. Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91, 85 S.Ct. 223, 13 L.Ed.2d 142 (1964).

The primary test in deciding whether a police officer had probable cause to make an arrest is an objective one. There are many circumstances that could lead an officer to conclude that someone has committed the offense of DWI, such as any combination of the following:

  • An open container of alcohol in a person’s car
  • The strong smell of liquor on a person’s breath
  • Slurred speech, slow reactions, or other signs of intoxication
  • A failed breathalyzer test
  • Admission to having drunk alcohol

These are just some of the more common reasons police officers use to establish probable cause that a person was driving while intoxicated.

This is where it is important for anyone accused of DWI to have good, talented defense attorneys defending their case. It is not usually enough for the police to simply allege that a person exhibited these behaviors before an arrest. There will need to be a record of police reports, testimony in court, video of the stop, or other evidence to corroborate what a police officer says.

A good defense attorney will challenge all of these reasons and argue that there was not probable cause to make an arrest, and therefore the charges should be thrown out. At The Wilder DWI Defense Firm we will fight your charges at every step and do our best to prove that there was no probable cause in your case. If you have been arrested for DWI, contact us as soon as you can.