A police officer must have a valid reason to initiate a traffic stop. In other words, a police officer cannot stop your vehicle without a reasonable and specific reason for doing so. The standard for stopping a vehicle is generally known as “reasonable articulable suspicion.” This means a reasonable person would have concluded that a stop should be conducted based on the same information the police officer had when they made the decision. However, what is “reasonable” is often the subject of debate in OWI cases.
What are some common reasons that police officers give for stopping a vehicle?
When an OWI charge is filed in Wisconsin, the arresting police officer may provide a number of reasons for conducting the traffic stop. However, not all the reasons for a traffic stop automatically suggest that the person’s ability to operate a vehicle is impaired. In many cases, though, a person ends up being charged with OWI after the police say they observed the following:
- Drifting into neighboring lanes
- Driving the wrong way on a one way street
- Stopping without a reason
- Running or rolling through a red light or stop sign without stopping completely
- Straddling the center line
- Driving at night with no headlights on
- Driving too fast or too slow
- Turning illegally or without a turn signal
- Inoperable taillights or license plate lights
- Expired license plates
Once a police officer stops a vehicle, the officer may try to determine the cause of the improper driving. Drivers should remember they have rights during the stop. One important right is the right to remain silent. You can remain pleasant and be honest, but you don’t have to answer every question. After all, police officers might ask leading questions that are difficult to answer without saying something that could incriminate you, so it’s best to exercise your right to remain silent. While driving in Wisconsin, however, you are required to provide your name and driver’s license if you have it on you, so don’t refuse to identify yourself.
What happens if there’s evidence of impaired driving?
If sufficient evidence meets the standard of probable cause, the officer can arrest the person for impaired driving. This standard of probable cause means that the evidence suggests that most likely a crime has been committed. In the case of driving while impaired, the results of a chemical test or a standardized field sobriety test may meet this standard. However, errors do occur in breath testing, and standardized field sobriety tests are not always reliable indicators of impairment.
If you are arrested for alleged OWI in Wisconsin, one of your first and most important steps should be to contact an experienced OWI defense lawyer.