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Suspected drunk driving stop is justified only with good cause

Drunk driving is an offense that keeps New Hampshire law enforcement authorities busy on a daily basis. Generally, the police must observe some irregularity before pulling over an operator of a vehicle. Prior to questioning or testing the accused for drunk driving, the police must have at least a reasonable suspicion that the offense was being committed. 

That requirement may have been satisfied in the recent arrest of a Londonderry man at about 1:15 a.m. in the vacant parking lot of an auto parts store in Hookset. A police officer observed the man driving his vehicle in the parking lot and alleges that he also observed fresh damage to the passenger front tire and both passenger side wheels. Those observations are apparently the basis for allowing the officer to believe that the operator had been engaging in erratic driving or had been in some kind of an accident.

Based on that suspicion, the police stopped the vehicle, questioned the suspect, and requested that the man perform field sobriety testing. The police then placed him under arrest for driving under the influence. Later at the police station, the accused voluntarily took a breath test that allegedly showed a breath alcohol content reading of .11. The threshold for a drunk driving offense in New Hampshire is .08, which makes this not an egregious situation in any event.  

This drunk driving arrest may have been justified based on the unusual circumstances of the car operating in the vacant lot with apparent damage to the tires. A defense, however, could be made based on the lack of reasonable suspicion, especially if the officer did not observe further indicia of intoxication, such as blood shot eyes and alcohol on the breath. The decision regarding defense strategy is best made after defense counsel and the accused discuss the options and decide on the best path under all of the circumstances.  If the accused has no prior DUI offenses, and if he enters a comprehensive plea agreement early with the prosecution, he will likely escape incarceration or other severe punishment under New Hampshire law.

Source: nh1.com, "NH man charged with DWI after police find car damaged in empty parking lot", July 10, 2017

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