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DUI Arrest in New Hampshire

A New Hampshire law enforcement officer does not need a warrant to arrest a motorist for DWI or Aggravated DWI.  However, if the officer determines to arrest a motorist without a warrant, he must have probable cause that the individual was driving a motor vehicle on a way while under the influence of alcohol, controlled drug(s), or both.  Many people want to know the exact situation when probable cause to arrest is present.  However, this is nearly impossible to clearly articulate due to the fact that probable cause is determined by the entire set of circumstances surrounding any particular incident.  In State v. Brown the New Hampshire Supreme Court has stated “probable cause to arrest exists when the arresting officer has knowledge and trustworthy information sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution and prudence in believing that the arrestee has committed an offense.”

Generally probable cause is based on the observations of an officer, but in some situations, the officer can rely upon eyewitness testimony, if it is deemed to be reliable.  Observations that may lead to probable cause include, but are not limited to an individual’s driving, performance of physical tests, admissions made during a traffic stop, and the physical condition and appearance of the driver.

Aggravated DWI and felony-level aggravated DWI arrests have additional elements for the offense and thus require additional probable cause determinations to be made by the officer.  Usually this is not extremely difficult for an aggravated DWI offense, but when the officer must determine if a driver caused an accident causing serious injury or death to another (required for felony-level aggravated DWI), it may require the officer to consult with another, such as a an individual experienced in accident reconstruction.

Despite the general situation when an officer observes a motorist he believes is committing an offense and then investigates, subsequently finding probable cause to make an arrest, the legislature has given officers the express authority to make an arrest in one situation in which he did not witness the individual operating the vehicle.  Any time a motorist is involved in a traffic accident and has probable cause to believe the “motorist has committed an offense, an element of which is driving under the influence of intoxicating liquors, controlled drugs, or both” he may arrest the individual.  See RSA § 265-A:17.   Many times an arrest of this nature will take place a medical facility, such as a hospital.  For example, suppose an officer arrives at the scene of an accident at which the individuals involved are quickly taken to the hospital.  The officer, while investigating the accident, finds empty alcohol containers in the floorboard of a person’s car.  This would give him a reasonable belief that the driver was drinking while operating the vehicle, and probably cause to believe the driver was under the influence of alcohol.   He would then be allowed to arrest the person.

Many DWI attorneys attempt to challenge DWI charges on the grounds of a probably cause violation.  If the officer does not have a warrant, or probable cause to arrest without a warrant, most of the information gathered by the officer will be inadmissible in court, which greatly increases the likelihood that the charges will be dismissed.  This makes it extremely important for a driver to consult with an attorney when facing DWI charges.

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