There are three major tasks or phases that an officer goes through when determining whether to make an arrest for drunk driving. The first is to observe the vehicle while in operation, the second is based on personal contact with the driver, and the third is the pre-arresting screening (or the Field Sobriety Tests). Another important task for the officer is to convey the evidence in a written report so that a judge, jury, prosecuting attorney and defense attorney are able to make a mental picture of the scene.
Observing the Vehicle
An officer will look for certain things before pulling a vehicle over. These observations may be as small as whether the driver is wearing his/her seatbelt or as large as the driver swerving over median. Once the officer turns on the flashing red and blue lights, the observations of the vehicle will continue until the stop is complete. The officer will determine whether the driver was able to pull over and park parallel to the curb, or whether the driver jumped the curb.
The next set of observations occurs during the initial process of the officer speaking to the driver. The officer will look for signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech, glossy eyes, smells of intoxicants. For some people with a higher tolerance for alcohol, these signs may not be obvious. The officer may look for other behavioral flaws. At this point, the officer must determine whether he/she has sufficient evidence to ask the driver to exit the vehicle and begin performing pre-arresting screening. If a driver is asked to exit his/her vehicle, the officer will watch how the driver gets out of the car and the way he/she walks to the back of his/her car.
Field Sobriety Tests
Some officers may begin with Non-Standardized Field Testing in order to confirm their suspicions of intoxication. However, if an officer intends to proceed with an arrest, the driver must fail the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. There are three tests that must be given at this point: The Walk and Turn, The One-Leg Stand, and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN). Based on the officer’s observations during the field testing, the driver is asked to submit to breath or blood chemical testing. At this point the officer will decide if an arrest is legitimate.
The officer is required to submit a written report of the entire sequence of observing the vehicle in motion to the point of arrest. A knowledgeable, skillful, and motivated officer will have descriptive elements of the violation which will include documented support for a successful prosecution. Because these elements are sensory based (i.e. sight, smells, sound), which are short-lived elements, the officer must take structured notes during the processing of the violation. These notes must be completed quickly, but be filled with detail and have enough information for another person to read and understand. These written notes help the officer recall his/her observations so that the observations can be clearly described in the written report. The details of this report will help determine whether the officer had enough reason to pull the vehicle over, administer the pre-arresting screening, and finally, make the arrest.
Getting arrested for drunk driving is serious and can impact a person socially, personally, professionally, and financially. If you have been arrested for drunk driving contact Attorney Nathan J. Dineen of Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, S.C. at 1-877-384-6800 or complete a Free Case Review online. Attorney Dineen practices solely in DUI Defense and is a member of the National College of DUI Defense. He is certified in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST) and Drug Recognition Evaluation (DRE). He understands what you are feeling and the process ahead of you. Remember to think before you drink, because that one drink could be enough to put you over the limit.