Probable Cause

Did the law enforcement officer have probable cause to stop your vehicle without a warrant?

When you are arrested for OVI in Ohio, contacting an experienced Columbus DUI attorney as soon as possible will likely be your best defense. An experienced Columbus OVI defense attorney can evaluate and discuss with you all of the options available to you for fighting your specific OVI charge in Ohio.

The Columbus criminal defense lawyers at Tyack Law Firm will consider a number of possible defenses when fighting your OVI charge, including whether the initial stop of your vehicle by a law enforcement officer was constitutional.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Article I, Section 14 of the Ohio Constitution protect an individual’s rights against unreasonable searches and seizures without warrants. The Supreme Court of the United States has held that the protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment apply, at least to some extent, to motor vehicles. Thus, the stop of a vehicle and the detention of its occupants by law enforcement, for whatever purpose and however brief the detention may be, constitutes a seizure for Fourth Amendment purposes.[1]

The Supreme Court of Ohio has observed, “[a]uthorities seem to be split as to whether a traffic stop is reasonable when supported merely by reasonable suspicion, or whether the heightened standard of probable cause must underlie the stop.” There are actually two types of “traffic” stops, and each has a different constitutional standard applicable to it.[2]

Non-Investigatory Traffic Stop

The first type of stop is the typical non-investigatory traffic stop, wherein the police officer witnesses a violation of the traffic code, such as crossing over the centerline of a road or speeding, and then stops the motorist for this traffic violation. A non-investigatory traffic stop must be supported by probable cause, which arises when the stopping officer witnesses the traffic violation.[3]

The cause for a non-investigatory traffic stop has been succinctly stated by the Supreme Court of Ohio: “Where a police officer stops a vehicle based upon probable cause that a traffic violation has occurred or was occurring, the stop is not unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution[.]”[4] Probable cause is defined in terms of “facts or circumstances ‘sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the (suspect) had committed or was committing an offense.’”[5]

When detaining a motorist for a traffic violation, a police officer may detain the motorist for a time period sufficient to allow the officer to issue a ticket or a warning, or to run a computer check on the driver’s license, registration and vehicle plates.[6] “In determining if an officer completed these tasks within a reasonable length of time, the court must evaluate the duration of the stop in light of the totality of the circumstances and consider whether the officer diligently conducted the investigation.”[7]

Just about any kind of traffic infraction can be sufficient for an officer to pull you over — a burnt out headlight or expired license plates, for example. Police officers and/or Ohio State Highway Patrol Troopers in and around Columbus commonly use marked lanes violations (in violation of R.C. 4511.33), following too closely violations (in violation of R.C. 4511.34), and/or failing to use a turn signal (in violation of R.C. 4511.39) as reasons for pulling an individual over. These types of stops often occur at night and, upon the detection of an odor of alcohol—or other purported “signs” of intoxication—the officer or trooper will likely ask the motor vehicle operator questions about how much the operator has had to drink, where the operator was coming from, and/or whether the operator presently has on them or has presently used any illegal substances. Depending on the answers to these questions—as well as any subsequent interactions between the officer and the motor vehicle operator—the police officer or trooper may ask the motor vehicle operator to submit to field sobriety testing. If the police officer or trooper claims he or she believes you may be under the influence of alcohol or any other illegal substance, he or she may ask you to submit to a breath, urine, and/or blood test. In most cases, it may be best to remain silent until you speak with an attorney and to refuse to submit to any field sobriety testing and/or urine, blood, or breath testing.

An experienced Columbus OVI defense attorney at the Tyack Law Firm will be able to review evidence provided by the State and evaluate whether the predicate non-investigatory traffic stop was constitutionally permissible under the Federal and Ohio Constitutions.

Investigatory “Terry” Stop

The second type of stop is the investigative or “Terry” stop, wherein the officer does not necessarily witness a specific traffic violation, but the officer does have sufficient reason to believe that a criminal act has taken place or is occurring, and the officer seeks to confirm or refute this suspicion of criminal activity.[8] an investigatory Terry stop is proper so long as the stopping officer has “reasonable articulable suspicion” of criminal activity.[9]

Like with a non-investigatory traffic stop, an investigatory Terry stop may not be supported by the facts and evidence. In either of these two circumstances, a good OVI / DUI lawyer in Columbus can challenge the stop as unconstitutional and work to get any evidence obtained from the stop—such as your field sobriety, breath, urine, and/or blood test results—suppressed in court. If such evidence is suppressed, then the prosecutor will be prohibited from using that information when pursing an OVI charge against you. This may ultimately lead to a dismissal of your charges, or a reduction to a less severe offense—such as physical control or reckless operation of a motor vehicle—that will carry less severe penalties and potential future consequences.


[1] Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 653, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 59 L.Ed.2d 660(1979), citing United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 556-558, 96 S.Ct. 3074, 49 L.Ed.2d 1116 (1976).

[2] City of Bowling Green v. Godwin, 110 Ohio St.3d 58, 850 N.E.2d 698, 2006-Ohio-3563, ¶ 13 (internal quotations omitted).

[3] See Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 810, 116 S.Ct. 1769, 1772 (1996).

[4] Dayton v. Erickson, 76 Ohio St.3d 3, 11–21, 1996-Ohio-431, 665 N.E.2d 1091.

[5] Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 111, 95 S.Ct. 854 (1975), quoting Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 91, 85 S.Ct. 223 (1964).

[6] State v. Batchili, 113 Ohio St.3d 403, 2007-Ohio-2204, ¶ 12, 865 N.E.2d 1282. See also Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1615, 191 L. Ed. 2d 492 (2015) (noting that “ordinary inquiries” incident to a traffic stop typically involve “checking the driver’s license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile’s registration and proof of insurance”).

[7] Batchili 2007-Ohio-2204 at ¶ 12.

[8] See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21, 88 S.Ct. 1868 (1968).

[9] Terry, 392 U.S. at 21.

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