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When Can a Police Officer Pull You Over? A Guide to DUI Defense in Fairfax County

Why Challenging an Officer's Stop on Your Vehicle Matters 

If you have been charged with a DUI in Fairfax then it is important to understand the different defenses you may have available to you. Generally, the most effective way to fight a DUI charge under Virginia Code Section 18.2-266 is to challenge the constitutionality of the Officer's stop. If an Officer has Reasonable, Articulable Suspicion to believe criminal activity is afoot, then the Officer has the authority to conduct the traffic stop. An experience defense attorney will be able to poke holes in the Police Officer’s testimony, which can result in the Suppression of the Evidence.


What is Reasonable Articulable Suspicion


In order for a police officer to conduct a traffic stop of a vehicle, they must have what is known as ‘Reasonable, Articulable Suspicion’ that criminal activity or a violation of law has been committed. This is the most common example of why an Officer may pull your vehicle over. This standard requires far more than an officer’s ‘hunch’ or ‘gut feeling’, but far less than actual proof. Reasonable suspicion allows the police to briefly detain an individual in order to confirm or dispel their suspicions.


Examples of Reasonable Suspicion:


  • Speeding

  • Defective brake light. VA Code §46.2-1003

  • Weaving outside your lane (weaving within a lane 5-10 times over a half-mile has been deemed sufficient (Neal v. Commonwealth) (one instant of weaving outside one’s lane has been deemed insufficient) (King v. Commonwealth)

  • Dangling object from rearview mirror

  • Unlawful window tint


Is an Anonymous Tip Sufficient to Establish Reasonable Articulable Suspicion


A police officer can stop a vehicle based on an anonymous tip if the information is deemed reliable. The officer must also have reason to believe this tipster is being truthful. If the tipster is able to predict future behavior, courts will often find the informant to be reliable. The mere broadcast to the police to be on the lookout for an individual, without more, does not provide an officer with reasonable, articulable suspicion. The tip must include detail and specific allegations. This is determined on a case by case basis.


A Consensual Encounter with a Motor Vehicle or Person


Police officers can approach citizens at any point, provided that the encounter is consensual. These types of encounters do not implicate the Fourth Amendment. These types of situations are only consensual when a reasonable person would understand they could refuse to cooperate and leave. Often times, if a police officer activates their lights, the encounter is no longer consensual.


Some factors the judges will look at are:

  • Number of officers present

  • Any verbal orders given

  • Display of weapons

  • Use of physical force

  • Retaining identification


An Officer can stop a vehicle based on the ‘Community Caretaker Function’


Another reason an officer can stop a vehicle or interact with an individual is based on what is known as the Community Caretaker Function. These situations often arise when the Officer doesn’t necessarily believe a crime has been committed but has reason to believe the individual is in danger or a danger to others. The police must reasonably believe that their assistance is needed immediately to protect human life or substantial property interests. Health issues or an individual unconscious in their vehicle are common examples of when Police Officer’s attempt to perform a traffic stop based on the Community Caretaker Function.



The consequences of a DUI conviction in Virginia can be immense. The Pickett Law Group, PLLC is an experienced law firm with two generations of former prosecutors, who have handled numerous DUI cases. Our DUI Lawyers have successfully fought DUI charges in Fairfax County, Arlington County, Loudoun County, and Prince William County. Contact one of our DUI Attorneys today for a free consultation.

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