Law enforcement officers are typically required to have a good reason to suspect that you have committed a crime or are about to commit a crime before they can pull you over. If the officer can’t prove he or she had a good reason for pulling you over, your DUI is invalid.
However, there is one important exception. A law enforcement officer is authorized to respond if a citizen appears distressed or seems to be in danger. If in the course of doing so, they discover evidence of a crime, the can make an arrest without violating the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights.
However, before he is legally allowed to take the initiative and investigate a potentially distressed citizen, the officer must have observed objective evidence that would lead him to suspect that the person is in danger and requires assistance. If the officer can determine that the citizen is in danger, he may provide the appropriate assistance. Any evidence of wrongdoing that turns up while that assistance is being provided can be used to justify a detention without violating Fourth Amendment rights. However if the officer can determine that the citizen is not in danger, or after the citizen has been helped and the officer knows that he is safe, the officer once again needs reasonable suspicion of a crime before he can further detain the citizen.
A good example of this principle in practice is provided by a Montana DUI case. The police officer knocked on the window of a car parked on the side of the road with its engine running but its headlights off. The driver appeared to be asleep and would not respond to attempts by the police officer to wake him up, including knocking on the car window. Fearing that the driver might be suffocating, the officer opened the door and discovered the driver was merely drunk.
The Montana Supreme Court decided that the DUI that was subsequently given to this driver was valid, and the officer’s investigation was lawful because of his reasonable suspicion that the driver might be in danger.
The ins and outs of DUI law can appear contradictory and complex. If you have been arrested for a DUI, call today for a free consultation with the Milwaukee DUI attorneys at Venden Heuvel & Dineen, P.C.