What gives a police officer the right to stop your vehicle? Basically, the officer must have reason to suspect that a violation has been committed, but what constitutes reasonable suspicion is not always clear.
For example, the Wisconsin Supreme Court recently ruled on a case involving a man who was cited for first-offense drunk driving after one of his passengers flicked a cigarette butt out of the car window.
The arresting officer said in court that he suspected the driver was drunk, but the officer admitted that he did not have probable cause to stop the car until he saw the littering violation.
Two lower courts ruled that evidence of the driver's intoxication should be thrown out. Why? The courts found that the arresting officer had used the stop for littering as a pretext for an OWI stop. In fact, no one in the car was cited for littering, but the driver was cited for OWI.
The state Supreme Court reversed the lower courts' rulings, however, referring to a Wisconsin statute that grants an officer the authority to stop a driver for littering. Although the driver in this case said that he was unaware at the time that his passenger had thrown out a cigarette, state law allows for a driver to be stopped for littering if the driver lets a passenger litter.
The Supreme Court's ruling means that a traffic stop for littering can lead to an OWI charge.
Police, courts and lawmakers in Wisconsin are cracking down on drunk driving, but not everyone accused of OWI is guilty.
If you are facing a drunk driving charge after a traffic stop, then the circumstances of the stop should be carefully scrutinized. For example, did the officer have a right to pull you over? Were field sobriety tests properly administered? Did you happen to refuse a breath or blood test, and were you justified in doing so? If these tests were administered, were the results accurate? Did the officer have probable cause to arrest you?
In any case, go with your best defense against an OWI charge. The potential consequences of a conviction are serious, and a DUI defense attorney who has successfully litigated these kinds of cases can help you avoid jail, preserve your driving privileges and keep your record clean. Take the steps now to mount a strong OWI defense.