A North Carolina woman who blew a .16 — or higher — on several Breathalyzer tests has had her drunk driving conviction overturned on appeal. The case is a fascinating example of just how seriously the courts take the issue of “probable cause” when the police make a traffic stop for suspected drunk driving (or anything else).
Essentially, this is what happened:
- The woman was a resident of a small town with only about 1,000 residents near the South of The Border tourist destination on Interstate 95.
- The police officer who ultimately arrested her for drunk driving knew the defendant on sight and saw her drinking a beer on her own porch about two hours prior to seeing her behind the wheel of her car.
- Despite the fact that the woman was driving normally, not speeding, wearing her seat belt, using her lights and otherwise obeying all traffic laws, the officer pulled her over.
- Claiming he smelled alcohol on her breath, the officer administered a total of four Breathalyzer tests. Her lowest reading showed a blood alcohol content (BAC) that was twice the legal limit.
Initially, the woman was charged with drunk driving and convicted, but the conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeals because there was no justifiable reason for the officer to pull her over and demand the Breathalyzer test save for the fact that he’d previously observed her drinking a beer several hours earlier. Even the arresting officer had to admit that she was not showing any signs of intoxication.
Your Fourth Amendment right against searches and seizures without probable cause is critical to many criminal defense actions. That’s one of the most important reasons that defense attorneys always advise people to know their rights and offer the authorities no information that could justify further intrusion into their lives when they’re facing the police.