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Do false arrests really happen in drunk driving cases?

If you're pulled over for a traffic violation, you may be startled to find yourself the target of a drunk driving investigation -- especially if you haven't been drinking.

However, the moment that the officer says that he or she smells alcohol on your breath, you know that's exactly what is happening.

While you may be inwardly seething at the injustice and feeling humiliated, it's important to remain outwardly calm. Assume that his or her concern is genuine and that he or she really does smell something that he or she is confusing with alcohol. Your traffic error gave rise to the original stop and showed that you might have something interfering with your ability to drive properly. As long as the officer asserts his or her belief that there is the odor of alcohol around you, the officer is still acting within the boundaries of his or her legal authority to conduct a further investigation.

It's when there's clear and convincing evidence that the officer's nose is wrong -- or at least a total lack of evidence that it was right -- and the officer proceeds with the arrest anyhow that your rights are probably being violated and you've become the victim of false arrest.

Again, for your safety, there's no benefit to resisting, arguing or explaining to the officer just how far over the line he or she has stepped -- your attorney will do all of that for you when the time comes to establish a suit against the police for the false arrest. For now, comply with the officer's commands and wait your turn to call your attorney.

Do false arrests like this really happen in drunk driving cases? Absolutely. Take, for example, the situation faced by a university professor who never drank at all. A minor traffic violation and an officer's insistence that he smelled alcohol on the professor's breath eventually led to a Breathalyzer test. The professor blew a perfect zero, showing no alcohol in his system. Undaunted, the officer insisted the professor must be on drugs and demanded a urinalysis. It was also clear. Still unconvinced, the officer sent the professor to a detention center anyhow -- where he spent 16 humiliating hours waiting to be released by someone with more sense.

If you've been the victim of a baseless drunk driving charge, an attorney can provide you with your legal options.

Source: FindLaw, "Police Misconduct and Civil Rights," accessed June 16, 2017

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