What is reasonable suspicion for an OWI stop?

On Behalf of | Oct 28, 2021 | OWI

If you enjoy beer, wine or cocktails, Madison may be paradise. After all, the city has dozens of pubs, restaurants and clubs that can satisfy your thirst. Still, if you drive with a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit, you may face charges for operating a vehicle while impaired.

Sobriety checkpoints are not legal in Wisconsin, so officers must have reasonable suspicion to stop your vehicle. Reasonable suspicion, though, does not have to be much.

A brief stop

Reasonable suspicion stems from circumstances that indicate a person may be breaking some law. It does not, however, require officers to have actual evidence of criminal conduct. If an officer has reasonable suspicion, he or she can likely briefly stop your vehicle either to confirm or dispel the suspicion.

Relevant suspicion

It is important to note that reasonable suspicion for an OWI stop does not have to involve suspected drunk driving. For example, an officer may notice you have a broken tail light. During the brief stop to address the light, the officer may smell alcohol, identify slurred speech or develop other suspicions about your level of intoxication.


While reasonable suspicion is a comparatively low legal threshold, it is not a meaningless one. That is, officers may not hide behind reasonable suspicion to harass you. If it is not reasonable for officers to suspect you may be doing something unlawful, they probably cannot stop your vehicle.

Ultimately, if you are facing OWI charges, investigating whether the officer had reasonable suspicion to support the stop may be an important part of your defense.