Getting stopped by a police officer in suspicion of DUI or DWI can be an extremely scary process for the driver. Here is a breakdown of a legal traffic stop and the procedures police officers follow before an arrest. Learning about the process can make the situation more manageable, and this understanding can be very helpful for your case if you are charged with DUI or DWI.
1. Traffic Stop or Sobriety Checkpoint
A police officer must have probable cause to pull a car over–this includes a traffic violation or a reason to believe the driver is intoxicated. Also, in some states, sobriety checkpoints are set up to check for intoxicated drivers, especially on holidays or holiday weekends. In this type of stop, all drivers or a random pattern of drivers might be stopped for questioning.
2. Field Sobriety Tests
You may have heard of or seen on television some of the various field sobriety tests police officers use to test drivers for intoxication. DUI USA lists some of the most common; they include:
- Nystagmus. This type of test seeks to reveal intoxication by testing for a jerk of the eyeball, a movement that is much more prominent in people that are under the influence of alcohol. The police officer will often hold an object a foot away from the person’s face and move it from side to side, while simultaneously checking for any pronounced jerking of the eyes.
- Walk and Turn. In this type of physical test, it is very important that the officer demonstrates what he is asking the suspected drunk driver to do, otherwise confusion could be misunderstood as intoxication. The officer will instruct the person to take nine toe-to-heel steps along a straight line and turn. Then the person must continue with nine more steps to the starting position, all the while saying the number of steps outloud and keeping hands at their side. The officer should ask to make sure the test is understood completely by the suspected drunk driver before he/she is instructed to begin.
- Standing on One Leg. The suspect is instructed to raise one foot six inches off the ground, and then alternate to the other foot while counting out loud. The police officer is checking for signs of intoxication such as swaying, hopping on one foot, and poor balance.
- Finger to Nose. The suspect is asked to slightly tilt their head back, and with eyes closed, the person is instructed to touch his/her nose. Once again, the police officer is looking for obvious signs of intoxication like swaying, tremors, and loss of balance.
- The Rhomberg Balance Test. Like the previous physical tests, this test is used to check for loss of balance. However, this test also determine a suspect’s grasp of time. The suspected drunk driver is asked to tilt their head backward with eyes closed for thirty seconds–an amount of time the suspect must time on their own. This checks for physical signs like swaying, tremors, and muscle tension, in addition to the suspect’s ability to accurately estimate the passing of time.
- Preliminary Alcohol Screening Test. Breathalyzer tests are also used to test the blood alcohol content of a suspected drunk driver. This information is concrete, and often hard to dismiss as inaccurate evidence in court. The legal limit is 0.08. A person can still be arrested even if they refuse a breathalyzer test.
- Miranda Rights. If the police officer believes to have enough evidence (probable cause) to arrest a suspected drunk driver, Miranda Rights must be said out loud. If the officer fails to perform this step, certain evidence could be excluded from the trial, making it much more difficult to prove the charges.
- Police Station. An arrested person is booked, fingerprinted, photographed, and interrogated. The suspect can decline to answer until an attorney is present.
- Preliminary Hearing. The preliminary hearing is used to determine if there is enough evidence to uphold a DUI charge against a person. It is highly suggested that the suspect has an attorney present during this process. If probable cause is established, a jury trial is scheduled.
Kristen Valek blogs for Carroll Troberman Criminal Defense, two criminal defense attorneys with experience in the Austin, Texas area. Kristen thinks some of the field sobriety tests might be difficult to do sober.
Originally posted 2016-04-02 14:21:29.