Most drunk driving cases in Mississippi begin with a routine traffic stop. Police officers in the Magnolia State do not have to observe a traffic violation to pull a motor vehicle over, but they must have the requisite reasonable suspicion. This is a legal standard based on the reasonable person doctrine. If a police officer observes behavior that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that a crime was being committed, he or she can initiate a traffic stop.
Reasonable suspicion is a nebulous term, but the courts have provided some clarity for how the standard should be applied in DUI cases. Courts have ruled that police officers had reasonable suspicion when they observed vehicles being driven erratically or extremely slowly and cautiously. Motorists that narrowly avoid accidents or apply their brakes frequently may also arouse a reasonable suspicion and be pulled over.
Police officers must have reasonable suspicion to pull a vehicle over, and they must have probable cause to make an arrest. This is a higher standard that requires officers to have solid grounds to believe that a crime has been committed. In drunk driving cases, probable cause is usually provided by the results of a roadside breath test. Police officers may order a motorist to take a breath test when they reasonably suspect that they are intoxicated. The odor of alcohol, an open container, slurred speech or bloodshot eyes could provide an officer with reasonable suspicion of intoxication.
Illegal traffic stops
Police officers must have reasonable suspicion to pull a motor vehicle over and probable cause to make an arrest. In drunk driving cases, reasonable suspicion can be provided by erratic, overly cautious or dangerous driving even if a motorist does not commit a traffic violation. When police officers do not have reasonable suspicion, the traffic stops they initiate could be considered illegal.