Probable Cause for DUI

Probable Cause for DUI Arrests in Georgia

Introduction to Probable Cause

In Georgia, law enforcement officers must have a legally valid reason, known as “probable cause,” to make a DUI arrest. What constitutes probable cause for DUI in Georgia is a legal concept that plays a crucial role in defending a DUI case.

What is Probable Cause for a DUI Arrest?

Probable cause is a legal standard. It exists when there is a reasonable belief that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed. It is based on the available facts and evidence at that moment. In the context of a DUI arrest, MOST PEOPLE THINK it exists when it does not! Sometimes, an officer has evidence that a driver is operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. THAT IS INSUFFICIENT FOR DUI!

“The probable cause needed to conduct an arrest for DUI requires that the officer have knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information that a suspect was actually in physical control of a moving vehicle while under the influence to a degree which rendered the suspect incapable of driving safely.”  State v. Damato, 690 S.E.2d 478 (Ga. App. 2010). Even if there is actual physical control of a motor vehicle after drinking alcohol, it is not probable cause for DUI. Id. It is important to utilize the services of a DUI lawyer. A DUI lawyer will analyze the factors of probable cause. Next, they will point out factors that are NOT present.

Factors Contributing to Probable Cause for DUI Arrest

Observable Behavior

Law enforcement officers can use their training and experience to identify signs of impaired driving. Erratic driving, swerving, drifting between lanes, sudden braking, and driving well below the speed limit can all be indications of impaired driving.

Traffic Violations

First off, an officer may observe traffic violations that are not DUI, such as running red lights, not using turn signals, or making illegal U-turns. Second, the violations can provide officers with a reason to initiate a traffic stop. Third, during the interaction, the officer may notice signs of impairment

Physical Symptoms

Officers train to observe physical symptoms of impairment during the traffic stop. These symptoms can include bloodshot or watery eyes, slurred speech, a strong odor of alcohol or drugs, and difficulty in producing identification or answering questions coherently.

Divided Attention and Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (“SFST”) for Probable Cause

Divided attention tests are commonly administered by officers to assess probable cause for DUI. These tests aim to evaluate an individual’s ability to multitask and maintain focus on multiple tasks simultaneously, simulating the demands of driving. Divided attention tests often include exercises such as the Walk and Turn test, where the individual must walk a straight line, heel-to-toe, turn, and repeat, while following specific instructions. Another test is the One-Leg Stand, where the person must balance on one leg while counting aloud. These tests help law enforcement officers gauge a driver’s physical coordination, cognitive function, and capacity to divide attention between different tasks, aiding in their determination of whether the driver is under the influence and poses a risk on the road. However, it’s important to note that the accuracy of these tests can be influenced by various factors, such as individual characteristics and environmental conditions.

The Battery of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

If the officer has reasonable suspicion of impairment after the initial stop, they may ask the driver to perform standardized field sobriety tests. For instance, in Georgia, officers use a battery of three standardized field sobriety tests. The three tests are the horizontal gaze nystagmus (“HGN”) test, and as previously mentioned, the walk-and-turn (“WAT”) test, and the one-leg stand (“OLS”) test. To be admissible evidence, officers must perform the three test in order, that is, HGN, WAT, then OLS. Officers must also perform the tests according to all of the other established standards. Each test, if performed according to the guidlenes established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, can be used to determine blood alcohol content (“BAC”) with a degree of scientific reliablity. These tests are also designed to assess the driver’s physical and cognitive abilities. Failing these tests can contribute to the officer’s probable cause for DUI determination.

Preliminary Breath Test (“PBT”)

Officers might use a preliminary breath test to estimate the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) at the scene. Results of a PBT are not admissible in court to establish BAC. Nevertheless, results of a PBT can establish presence of alcohol, which may contribute to probable cause.

Admission of Consumption

Admitting to consuming alcohol or drugs can contribute to the establishment of probable cause. Above all, it’s important to note that drivers have the right to remain silent. Most importantly, drivers do not have to answer incriminating questions.

Probable cause for DUI is a critical element in protecting the rights of individuals. If an officer does not have probable cause for DUI, then evidence collected during the arrest is inadmissible in court. Officers must follow proper procedures and adhere to legal standards during an arrest.


Understanding probable cause for DUI arrests in Georgia is essential for both law enforcement officers and citizens. To sum it up, officers mistake or confuse signs of impaired driving. A driver arrested for DUI should challenge an officer’s alleged findings. However, DUI law is very technical and scientific. Many people do not know their rights during a DUI traffic stop. Like wise, most people do not know the scientific standards in a DUI arrest, and if they do, they lack the experience to successfully defend a DUI case in court. By upholding the legal standard of probable cause for DUI, a DUI lawyer can succeed in defending a DUI arrest. If you find yourself in a situation with a DUI arrest, seeking legal counsel is crucial to protect yourself.