Initial Stop of a Vehicle
All traffic officers must have reasonable suspicion that a driver is drunk in order to stop them for such an offense. There are many visual clues that indicate a driver may have been drinking or be under the influence of other intoxicants. Some of these you may already be familiar with. The officer may note the vehicle swerving or unable to stay within its own lane. Unnecessary changes in speed – fast to slow, then slow to fast – at random intervals may indicate someone who has been drinking. Essentially, any driving behavior that seems “out of the ordinary” is enough probable cause for an officer to pull a vehicle over to investigate.
Anyone that has been to a party or public event where alcohol was served can probably recognize the physical signs of someone who is intoxicated. Slurred speech, lack of focus, red or unclear eyes – all good signs that someone could be drunk. When an officer asks for a suspected DWI or DUI offender to get out of their vehicle, the officer will be watching for other signs of intoxication. Does the driver get out smoothly or do they stumble? Do they stand upright in a fluid manner or do they seem off-balance? These signs are enough for the officer to decide if they should administer a field sobriety test.
Field Sobriety Test
There are a few tests the officer can administer to verify the intoxication level of a driver. The first (and these can be done in any order) is the “watch my finger – or flashlight – with your eyes and don’t move your head” test where they check for horizontal gaze nystagmus. This is a medical term meaning “do your eyes move smoothly from side to side or are they bouncy?” There are a few medical conditions that could make this test inaccurate, such as physical trauma to the eye, etc. Also, if the offender is wearing corrective lenses they will be asked to remove them (if vision allows) as the officer needs to clearly see the offender’s eyes. Contact lenses or a glass eye will also invalidate this test. There is also speculation that flashlights should not be used for this test as they can cast shadows which could confuse a suspect’s eyes regardless of their level of intoxication.
Another common test is the “walk and turn: test. This is where the officer will have the suspect walk a set distance along a straight line in order to gauge balance as an indicator of inebriation. The straight line used is often the outer boundary line on the road itself. If in town or another area where it is not safe to use this line, then having the suspect walk next to a curb or along the edge of pavement can also work. The area should be level, dry, and non-slippery for the test to be effective. For this test, the officer is required to give a detailed demonstration along with clear verbal instruction as to who the suspect must do the test or it can be deemed invalid. The test usually has the suspect walk, heel-to-toe, for nine paces, turn, and return to the starting point. The suspect must also stand heel-to-toe while the officer gives the instructions. The officer will watch for swaying or loss of balance while the suspect is listening to the instructions. While the suspect is walking, the officer will watch for loss of balance, arms more than six inches away from the body to steady themselves, an unbalanced turn, etc. Any of these indicators scores a “point” against the suspect. If the officer gives two or more points, that is indicative of intoxication and the suspect could be arrested.
The last common test for DUI/DWI is the “stand on one leg” test. This one also must be on a level, dry, non-slippery surface to be valid and must also begin with clear instruction and demonstration by the officer. This test consists of the suspect standing on one leg (they choose which leg) with the other out in front of them at least six inches off the ground. In this stance, the suspect must stand still, with arms at their sides, and count aloud to 30 in the form of “one-one thousandth, two-one thousandth . . .” This is also scored with “points”. If the suspect sways excessively, uses arms more than six inches away from their body to balance, counts excessively slow, or has to hop or put their foot down to prevent falling – they will rack up points. Again, two or more points will earn the suspect a trip to jail.
The arrest procedure for a DWI/DUI is pretty much the same as for any other offense. Once the officer determines that an arrest is necessary, it should be declared – “Sir/Ma’am, I am placing you under arrest for DWI.” This way, the offender knows that they are being placed under arrest, and the officer is protected by following the rules of an arrest. The first step is to read the Miranda warning. This reading lets the offender know specifically what their rights are during the arrest procedures. This warning, sometimes referred to as Miranda rights, came about from a 1963 trial of Ernesto Miranda. He was arrested for kidnapping and rape of an unknown woman. He confessed to the crime before being told of his constitutional right to remain silent and to have a lawyer present. He was convicted and spent about three years in jail, but the case was eventually overturned when the Supreme Court ruled that Miranda didn’t understand his rights before making his confession. Since the same situation can arise should an arresting officer not read an offender their warnings, it is common practice for the arrest procedure to begin, “You have the right to remain silent. . .”.
Testing of Body Samples
People do know of the breathalyzer test as the most common “test of the body” when a driver is suspected of being intoxicated. However, in some states, it is admissible to collect a urine sample of a DWI/DUI suspect should the breathalyzer results and the officer’s opinion differ. A urine test can give a more accurate picture of what chemicals, be they alcohol or others, are in a driver’s system around the time of the offense. Many people may not realize that many drugs and medications, along with alcohol, stay in the body for some time after use. Note the following list:
Heroin/Morphine 1-3 days (possible only one day); Methadone 1-2 days (very dose dependent); Dihydrocodeine 4-5 days (in high concentrations); Codeine 2-3 days; Pholcodine 10-15 days; Amphetamines 1-2 days (can be detected up to 4 days); Cocaine 12 hrs – 3 days; Benzodiazepines 1 day – 3 weeks (acute v. chronic use); Barbiturates days – weeks (dependant on type); Ecstasy 2-4 days; Temgesic 2-3 days; Alcohol 12 – 24 hours
A much more accurate picture of a person’s intoxication, and by what means, can be derived from a blood test. This is the same type of procedure as when you go to the doctor a checkup. A standard syringe can be used to draw a vial a blood for the testing procedures. This will give a very detailed breakdown of what chemicals are in a person’s blood, be they legal or not, and what amounts of each are present. Due to the cost and time involved, most states don’t allow a blood draw as admissible evidence against a DWI/DUI offender unless that person was admitted to the hospital as an injured party in an auto accident. In that case, a blood draw is usually standard procedure and can then be admitted into a court case as evidence of intoxication in the offender.
The “official” charging of an offense such as DUI/DWI occurs at the time the offender is arrested. When an arresting officer makes the statement “You are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent” etc., that is the moment that the person has been charged with the crime. This is the beginning of the legal process and does not always reflect what the final outcome of the trial. It is usually best at this stage for the offender to say as little as possible (hence the “right to remain silent”). During most trials, the statements and observations of the arresting officer and other involved law personnel can be taken into consideration in the case against the offender. Even with this knowledge, as anyone who has watched an episode of COPS or some of the new “traffic arrest” based shows, drunk drivers are rarely quiet!
As with any trial, a court appearance for DUI/DWI has its preparation time. This allows the defendant to get educated about all the ways they may make a case against the charges brought to the court. There are many ways to beat a DUI/DWI charge, so it’s best to learn and be prepared. An easy mistake for the offender to make is thinking that the prosecuting team is sitting around waiting for the court date to come. “Maybe they are to busy with other cases and won’t prepare for mine; maybe they don’t know the DUI/DWI laws in this state very well; maybe my case just isn’t that big of a deal.” Seriously, these thoughts go through the lazy offender’s head. If you are having these thoughts, get yourself in gear! The prosecuting team will be prepared with knowledge to bring a strong DWI case against you. You must be prepared as well.
Hopefully you have come to this site due to your first DUI offense. If you have had more than one, then there may be other issues to address to fully help yourself out of this situation. If this is your first time, don’t tell yourself that all is lost! You simply need to be prepared and act quickly to have the best outcome of your trial. An important step is to educate yourself so you are aware of what sentencing you may receive. At some level, the court will require that you make good on the problems you have created. This may include fines, community service, wearing of a SCRAM bracelet, jail time, or any combination of these. Make sure that you follow the sentencing you are given. The last thing you want to do is ignore what the court requires and thereby compound the problems you are already having.
Courts and DWI/DUI
The simple statement to make is that no court likes to see a DWI/DUI case come into the room. Realisticly, no court case is “good” – if everyone would make solid, positive decisions and be careful during their daily activities, the majority of court cases could be avoided. That said, the courts want to do everything in their power to make sure that anyone convicted of DWI/DUI only comes into their courtroom for that one case only – and makes no reason to return. If a drunk driver makes attempts a repeat performance, the court will simply come down harder on them for their actions. There are plans to deal with these hardcore drunk drivers and the court takes a strong stance in opposition to these people.
The courts, and society in general, wants to eliminate the occurance of underage drunk drivers. The logic behind this is that the more we do to stop underage drinking in general, and by that course underage drunk driving, then the problem of adult drunk drivers will be reduced as time passes. The good folks at the Century Council are doing their part to stop underage drunk driving. Other organizations are also doing what they can to educate today’s youth against the dangers of drunk driving.
Frustrated parents commonly point fingers at the entertainment industry for glamorizing being drunk and take the easy road by blaming anything and anyone they can. The reality is that all parents have the power to control their children’s choices to a large degree. The moment a parent decides they can’t control their kids – they have made the choice to lose the battle. Like this writer tells his own children, “whether you think you can or you can’t – you’re probably right.” Hopefully the parents taking the right steps to educate their children against drunk driving and the problems alcohol can cause are not the same parents giving their kids alcohol at home. The best way to teach today’s youth about the problems of alcohol and drunk driving is TO TEACH THEM! Ignorance may be bliss, but it can also allow many problems to arise. Be involved in what your kids are doing, get them involved in community action programs like SADD, and you will go far in keeping them safe from poor choices down the road.