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Pretextual Stops: The Best Friend of Police Officers Looking for DUI Arrests

When it comes to enforcing California's law for driving under the influence (DUI), a pretextual stop is a police officer's best friend. Understanding how they work, therefore, can be a huge help in avoiding a wrongful arrest and criminal charge for drunk driving that can change your life and strip you or your right to drive.

Traffic Stops and Probable Cause

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects everyone in America from unfair police investigations by prohibiting searches and seizures that are “unreasonable.” Importantly, according to the Supreme Court of the United States, a traffic stop amounts to a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, any time a police officer initiates a traffic stop in California, they need to ensure the stop is reasonable, or else they will be violating your civil rights.

There are only a small handful of ways that a police officer can conduct a seizure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Practically speaking, when it comes to traffic stops, the only way for a police officer to make one without violating your rights is if they have probable cause that a crime is being committed.

What Is a Pretextual Stop?

However, the violation that you get pulled over for does not have to be the one that gets you arrested, and police know it. Therefore, even if they pull you over for a minor violation of the traffic code, like a broken taillight, you can still be arrested for DUI if the police find evidence of it, during the traffic stop.

Initiating a traffic stop because of a minor violation so they can search for evidence of a more serious one is a common police tactic known as a pretextual stop.

An Example of a Pretextual Stop

For example, imagine a police officer sees someone leaving a bar. The person walks out, crosses the parking lot, gets into their car, and drives away. The officer saw that they were walking straight, and didn't seem to be drunk, but they came from a bar, so the officer is suspicious that they are now driving drunk.

The officer follows them and watches as the car changes lanes without signaling, a violation of California Vehicle Code 22107.

At this point, the police officer can pull the car over, because they've committed a traffic infraction that can be ticketed. However, once the vehicle is on the side of the road, you can count on the police officer doing all that they can to find evidence of drunk driving: They'll look for signs of inebriation, like glassy or bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, or the smell of alcohol on the driver's breath. They'll probably even ask the driver to take a field sobriety test or blow into a breathalyzer.

Sacramento DUI-Defense Attorney John Campanella

Police constantly use pretextual stops to better find evidence of DUI, and this often leads to “false positives” and wrongful accusations of drunk driving.

Having the skills of DUI-defense attorney John Campanella on your side is the best way to prevent these criminal charges from turning into criminal convictions. Contact him online or call his Sacramento law office at (877) DUI-JOHN if you need legal help.

John Campanella

I have been representing people accused of drunk driving since I began practicing in 1995. I went to my first Sacramento DUI conference that year and listened to great DUI attorneys like Ed Kuwatch AKA, “Fast Eddie” and Lawrence Taylor who motivated me to study and practice in this area of law.

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