If you travel frequently for work or pleasure, you may have encountered a sobriety checkpoint. At these temporary roadblocks, officers stop all or a random sample of vehicles to determine if drivers may have blood alcohol concentrations above the legal limit.
You probably have not seen an OWI checkpoint in the Badger State, though. In fact, Wisconsin is one of 12 states that expressly outlaw the enforcement measure. Consequently, for an officer to stop your vehicle, he or she must reasonably suspect you are violating some law.
Reasonable suspicion and OWI stops
Officers may not typically stop your vehicle for no reason. Still, reasonable suspicion is a comparatively low legal threshold. In an OWI context, reasonable suspicion includes any driver actions that may lead a reasonable officer to believe the driver may be under the influence of alcohol.
While gauging reasonable suspicion requires a fact-based analysis, the following driver behaviors likely qualify:
- Speeding or driving below the speed limit
- Weaving or suddenly changing lanes
- Violating other traffic laws
- Driving a vehicle at night without headlights
Probable cause and OWI arrests
While reasonable suspicion is sufficient to support an OWI stop, officers need probable cause to arrest a you. The smell of alcohol, slurred speech or a failed breath or field sobriety test may all give officers probable cause.
The fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine
Unless you are a law student or attorney, the legal distinctions between reasonable suspicion and probable cause may not mean much to you. If you are facing OWI charges, though, they are incredibly important.
The fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine prevents prosecutors from using improperly obtained evidence against you. If officers lacked reasonable suspicion or probable cause at the requisite time, any subsequently obtained evidence may be inadmissible.