Police officers typically suspect that a driver is under the influence if the driver is operating their vehicle senselessly or impulsively. Traffic violations are one of the many ways an officer of the law can tell a driver is under the influence. Individuals who are under the influence often display impaired actions such as not using headlights at night, almost hitting an object or another vehicle, quick acceleration or deceleration, erratic braking, heavy swerving, driving on the wrong side of the road, or switching lanes inappropriately. A police officer is allowed to stop any vehicle as long as it constitutes for reasonable cause or reasonable suspicion. As soon as an officer identifies anything suspicious about a driver, they will initiate an immediate traffic stop to investigate.
What Occurs In The Investigation?
After a traffic stop is initiated and the suspected driver pulls over, the officer will then speak to the driver and look for any indication and symptoms of drugs or alcohol. Officers tend to look for a few symptoms including disorientation, slurred words, watery or bloodshot eyes, drowsiness, or odor. The odor of alcohol on a driver’s breath is an explicit indication that the driver may be intoxicated. As a result of smelling alcohol or seeing other indications and symptoms, a full-length investigation will be conducted to test if the driver is drunk. At this time, the officer may ask the driver to step out of the vehicle to conduct the Standard Field Sobriety Test which consists of 3 parts – the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), the walk-and-turn, and the one-leg stand tests.
The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
This test displays the involuntary jerking of the eyeballs. While an individual is intoxicated, their eyes will jump repetitively from side to side, up and down, or in a circular pattern. To evaluate an individual’s nystagmus, the officer will look for the jerking of the eye by shining a flashlight towards the suspect’s face. According to Field Sobriety Tests, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test is about 77% accurate due to neurological and medical eye conditions that affect the nystagmus. If the eyeballs are found to be jerking, the heel-to-toe-walk and one-leg stand tests will be conducted next.
Suspected drivers are required to walk from heel to toe in a perfectly straight line. The officer will instruct the suspect to take nine steps, forward and back in the opposite direction, with their arms to the side. The suspect must watch their feet at all times, keep their arms to the side, and count their steps out loud while they walk. This is a test based on both instructions and performance. A few indications that can show impairment includes difficulty balancing, stopping while walking, failing to walk heel to toe, leaning on a car for balance, turning incorrectly, and taking the incorrect number of steps. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the walk-and-turn test has only a 66% accuracy rate.
The One-Leg Stand Test
This test is also examined based on instructions and performance. The officer will require the suspected driver to raise one leg approximately a half of a foot off the ground and pointed out. The officer will then ask the driver to count out loud while holding that same position. A few clues that an officer may deem as an indicator of a DUI includes swaying, using arms to remain balanced, hopping on one foot, or putting their foot down completely. According to Field Sobriety Tests, the one-leg stand test only has a 65% accuracy rate of determining intoxication.
What Is Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)?
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is the percentage of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream. This test is usually administered at the police station and is taken by a blood or breath sample. The legal blood alcohol concentration in the United States is 0.08 percent. If an individual BAC level shows 0.08 or more, they will be arrested for suspicion of DUI. If an individual is asked to take the blood alcohol test and refuses, they will still be arrested for suspicion of DUI. If a driver’s BAC is 0.07 or lower, they may be charged with driving while impaired (DWI).
A DUI charge is a severe matter that can jeopardize a range of driving privileges. Penalties of a DUI charge vary by state,” says Attorney Brian Leifert from Leifert & Leifert. “Depending on if the driver is a first, second, or third time offender, a DUI charge can be considered a misdemeanor or a felony. If someone is seriously injured or killed due to a drunk driver or this is one of multiple DUI charges, it can be considered a felony and the driver can face extreme consequences.
A few consequences of DUI charges include jail or prison time, mandatory participation in an alcohol or drug abuse counseling program, extreme fines, and the restriction or void of the driver’s license.