How can they charge me with DUI when I was stopped for a busted tail light?
Before becoming an Arizona DUI defense lawyer, I was a police officer for several years and received specialized training in DUI enforcement. One of the first things a rookie cop learns is that probable cause for a DUI arrest does not have to exist before the traffic stop occurs. It does not matter how trivial the traffic violation may be. The initial reason for the traffic stop does not even have to be a moving violation. Once a car has been legally stopped and an officer smells the odor of alcohol (or marijuana) or sees drug paraphernalia in plain sight, then the officer can legally shift into full blown DUI investigation mode.
Everyone thinks of the classic drunk driver as swerving all over the road. Yet the truth is that the vast majority of DUI offenders are stopped for traffic violations that cold sober people regularly commit. Speeding, turning into the wrong lane, and failure to signal are examples of these types of offenses. From a “20/20 hindsight” perspective, my clients are never happy to be fighting a DUI charge, but they never accuse the cops of not playing fair when the underlying reason for the traffic stop involved safe driving. What drives my DUI clients absolutely nut-zoid is when they are stopped for any of the following offenses:
- Busted or non-working light bulb – That you did not know your tail light was burned out or broken does not mean the traffic stop is invalid. And if you think there is something wrong with cops stopping you for a busted tail light, there are cops in every jurisdiction who pull people over just because that little light bulb next to the rear license place has burned out. Most of my clients do not even know that they have a light bulb next to their rear license plate. None of them know that state law requires that bulb to be there.
- Failure to stop at a sidewalk – A.R.S. §#28-856 mandates that drivers in Arizona stop before crossing a sidewalk in any business or residential district. There does not have to be a stop sign present. The lack of pedestrians is a non-issue. It does not matter how carefully or slowly you ease across the sidewalk next to your favorite fast food joint. Fail to stop before crossing a sidewalk at night, and you just gave the cops a nice, legal excuse to pull you over and conduct a DUI investigation.
- Being involved in a traffic accident that was not your fault – I still remember my first DUI arrest as a cop when the poor man (who was barely over the legal limit) was rear-ended by your classic, inattentive teenage driver. He and every similar client I have defended over the past two decades all believe there is something wrong with a judicial system where the accident victim is arrested for DUI.
- Failure to dim your high beams – We all hate it when our night vision is zapped by the high beams of an oncoming driver. If you fail to dim your high beams to an oncoming patrol car, you will almost certainly get stopped. (This one is especially popular with the deputies that patrol the lakes in Maricopa County).
- Turn signal accidentally left on – Ever been behind that driver that has no clue that his or her turn signal has been blinking for the past six miles? Activating your turn signal and then failing to turn is a violation of the Arizona traffic code and, late at night, a perfect excuse for a DUI traffic stop.
When it comes to DUI enforcement, police officers will use every legal excuse in the books to stop people late at night in the hopes of making a DUI arrest. Unfortunately, some cops will also justify stopping a driver for reasons that are less than legal. A DUI defense lawyer at Rowley Chapman & Barney has a vast amount of experience in attacking illegal traffic stops. If you need our help, please call us today at (480) 833-2341.
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