You’re driving late at night. You might be tired, but you have had nothing to drink. Suddenly, you see lights behind you. You hear a siren and start to pull over.
A police officer approaches your vehicle, and you roll down your window. He shines a light into your eyes and says something like, “I can see that you’ve been drinking. Step out of the car, please.”
You are then asked to perform field sobriety tests, but you’re nervous and make a couple of mistakes. The officer asks you a few questions about whether you’ve had anything to drink and where you’re going, and you answer truthfully.
Then, even though you are completely sober, the officer says he’s taking you to the station. Handcuffed, you leave your car on the side of the road and ride to the station in the back seat of a police cruiser.
At the station, you take a breathalyzer test. It reads 0. Even so, the same officer that arrests you says, “You may have blown a zero, but I know something else is going on here.” He asks you to submit to a urine test. Again, the test comes back negative.
At this point, you finally get to call a family member to pick you up.
In the end, the DUI charges against you are dropped, but the damage has been done.
What can you do in this scenario?
Suing for a Wrongful DUI Arrest
The above story might seem ridiculous or completely fabricated, but it is actually very similar to what has happened to people across the country. Some believe they were pulled over because of their race or national origin, while others attribute it to the time of night or a minor traffic infraction like swerving out of their lane.
All reasons aside, law enforcement officers should not arrest drivers on suspicion of DUI if there is no probable cause to do so. They must have a good and valid reason to believe a driver has been drinking and driving or is under the influence of drugs. Race, age, the way a person is dressed, and even an offense like speeding is not a reason to make a DUI arrest, place a person in handcuffs, and take them to the police station – only to have them test negative for drugs or alcohol.
A March 2022 Inside Edition article talks about two specific cases where motorists took matters into their own hands and are suing after wrongful DUI arrests.
A Florida man is suing the Brevard County Sheriff’s Department for being arrested even though he was sober. He submitted to a urine test after his arrest, and it came back negative.
A man from Colorado is doing the same, after an arrest that ended in a negative breath test and a negative blood test. In the Colorado case, the driver claims that the officer in question has done the same thing to at least four other motorists, who were later cleared as sober.
In 2013, a retired firefighter filed a $500,000 lawsuit against the City of Surprise, Arizona after a wrongful DUI arrest that he believes was the result of racial profiling. The man was pulled over after allegedly crossing over the line in this lane, and the officer who pulled him over had him step out of the car and perform a field sobriety test even though the retiree had bad knees and was scheduled for a hip replacement in just two days. The officer then handcuffed him and had him sit on the curb. He was taken into the station, where a breathalyzer revealed what the motorist already knew and had told the officer – that he was sober. Even so, his car was impounded and his license was suspended.
The charges against the retired firefighter were dropped, but he had already experienced the humiliation and trauma of being wrongfully arrested.
When Is a DUI Stop or Arrest Unlawful?
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures. This applies to DUI stops and arrests. Simply put, law enforcement officers must have a warrant and/or probable cause to pull a person over and arrest them for drunk driving.
For a DUI stop, probable cause may be established if the motorist in question breaks a traffic law. In the retired firefighter’s case, the officer may have had a reason to pull him over, but it was his actions after, including the arrest and testing, that were questionable.
To make an arrest for DUI, law enforcement must have probable cause. They may establish this based on observations, anything the motorist says or does that would indicate that they’re intoxicated, performance on field sobriety tests, and even a roadside breath test. If the motorist shows no visible signs of intoxication, but cannot perform a field sobriety test because he has a physical disability (like bad knees and a hip in need of replacement), this does not necessarily establish valid grounds for an arrest.
When arrests are made in violation of a motorist’s constitutional rights, our team at Thomas & Paulk stands up and fights to set things right. We have a 20-year history of representing Floridian’s rights in DUI and other criminal matters, and we have successfully handled more than 7,000 cases. Our experience is unparalleled, as is our commitment to our clients’ rights.
Contact our Tampa DUI attorneys today to learn more about your rights and options after a wrongful arrest.