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Dysart Willis

Can the 'odor' of alcohol lead to an arrest?

If you are arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, chances are that there will be a police report detailing the officer’s reasons for taking you into custody. It is likely that in the report, there will be some mention of the officer smelling an “odor of alcohol” coming from you (or the vehicle). Essentially, this is likely the first in a set of facts to justify an arrest.

However, have you ever thought about what alcohol actually smells like? After all, alcohol doesn’t have a distinctive smell by itself. Ironically, the strongest drinks that people consume are usually odorless, unless they are infused with some type of flavoring (e.g. cherry flavored vodka). 

Of course, a person could have alcohol on their breath and not have a blood alcohol level that is over the legal limit in the state of North Carolina. In fact, the smell of alcohol may not tell an officer whether you are actually impaired. In fact, there is a possibility that the smell may be attributable to something else. As such, it may be necessary to closely evaluate the officer’s observations.

Basically, an officer must have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred in order to order a driver from a vehicle to perform field sobriety tests. If there is a plausible explanation for the alcohol odor, perhaps the officer would not have a genuine reason to order further tests to determine if you are intoxicated.

The preceding is not legal advice. If you have additional questions, contact an experienced attorney.