In the majority of DUI cases, the motorist is pulled over due to indicators of impairment (such as swerving) or a traffic violation (even something minor like a broken taillight will suffice). In general, a stop is legitimate if the officer had probable cause (sometimes referred to as “reasonable suspicion”) to believe the driver had violated the law. (For additional information on the legality of traffic detentions, see here.)
If the police actually did not have good cause to pull you over, you can file a request to suppress later in the case, which may result in the dismissal of the entire prosecution.
Typically, traffic detentions begin with the police requesting your driver’s license and registration. The officer is likely to take notice if you exhibit indicators of intoxication during this interaction—things like fumbling with your paperwork or the stench of alcohol or marijuana. Any such observations will very certainly be included in the police record, which you will normally receive for the first time during your arraignment.
Almost always, during a DUI stop, police ask the driver if they’ve had anything to drink. In answer, the majority of motorists reply something along the lines of “only a drink or two with dinner”—a common understatement of how much they actually drank. After hearing these types of statements numerous times, police officers are unlikely to stop there—especially if there are other evidence that you’ve been drinking or taking drugs. After receiving confirmation that you’ve been drinking — regardless of the amount — the majority of cops will want to conduct additional investigation. (Learn about your right to remain silent during police interrogation.)
When Can Police Search Your Vehicle?
Generally, police can search your automobile without a warrant if they have probable cause to suspect there is compelling evidence inside. For example, an officer may observe or smell anything during a DUI stop that leads them to suspect the presence of drugs in the vehicle. If that is the case, authorities may be justified in examining not only the interior of your vehicle, but also the glove compartment, trunk, and locked containers such as backpacks. Another frequently used basis for an automotive search is assent of the driver: Generally, police officers can search your car if you grant them permission.
When an officer suspects someone of drunk driving, he or she will frequently conduct roadside tests to validate the suspicions: field sobriety tests (FSTs) and a “preliminary alcohol screening” (PAS) test (commonly called a breathalyzer). Typically, these pre-arrest examinations are voluntary.
Field Sobriety Examinations
Police officers employ a variety of various FSTs. However, the three “standardized” FSTs are the most frequently used:
- nystagmus of the horizontal gaze (HGN)
- and walk and turn
- Stand on one leg.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) created these three tests — collectively referred to as the “standardized FST battery” — in the 1970s to assist officers in determining a motorist’s level of impairment. The NHTSA decided after completing research that the standardized FSTs were reliable markers of a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) of.1% or above.
A PAS device (alternatively referred to as a “portable breath test” (PBT) machine) is a portable instrument used by police to determine a driver’s breath alcohol content. The PAS results are not always as trustworthy as breathalyzer or blood test results obtained at a police station or hospital. However, the advantage of these gadgets is that they provide authorities with a quick and straightforward means to assess a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The aim of a PAS test is not to gather evidence for court, but to determine if there is probable cause to arrest someone for DUI.
Reports from the Police
The majority of individuals are curious to see the DUI police report, which details the incident in the officer’s own words. In most places, the police report is not available until the arraignment, the first day of court. Because the report details the evidence against you, it is critical for determining the best course of action in your case. By studying the police record, a competent DUI attorney can frequently determine the state’s strengths and flaws.
Chemical Testing Requirements and Implied Consent
Each of the 50 states has enacted “implied consent” statutes requiring motorists apprehended lawfully for DUI to submit to chemical testing. The goal of the testing—which is typically performed on the driver’s breath or blood—is to determine the level of drugs or alcohol in his or her system. Drivers who refuse to submit to testing typically risk the following consequences:
- suspension of license
- penalties, and
- requiring installation of an ignition interlock device (IID).
Additionally, if the case proceeds to trial, the prosecution is typically permitted to inform the jury about the defendant’s rejection. In some places, refusing a chemical test might result in a second criminal charge. A refusal in these states can result in two distinct criminal convictions: one for DUI and another for the refusal. The United States Supreme Court, however, ruled in 2016 that laws criminalizing refusal to submit to a blood test were unconstitutional. However, the Court stated that it is typically acceptable for a legislation to make refusing to submit to a breath test a crime. (For additional information on the Supreme Court ruling, see DUI Testing: Breath, Blood, and Warrants.)
Are You Arrested, Detained, or Released?
If police believe they have probable cause to arrest you for driving while intoxicated, you will almost certainly be handcuffed and sent to a nearby jail or police station. When you are arrested for a DUI, the police will normally confiscate your driver’s license and issue you with a temporary paper permit. Generally, the interim permit is valid until the court or the department of motor vehicles decides whether to suspend your license. Police will book and cite you for the infraction at the jail or police station. Generally, you’ll remain in jail until someone posts bail or a judge releases you on your “own recognizance.” If you are arrested on a Friday and are not released on bail, you may spend the entire weekend in jail. The good news is that you will receive credit for time spent in jail against any future term imposed.
Obtain Legal Assistance
If you’ve been charged with driving while intoxicated, it’s a good idea to consult an experienced DUI attorney. DUI laws vary each state, and each case is unique. A experienced DUI attorney can assist you in comprehending the applicable laws in your state and explaining any viable defenses you may have.