Police Protocol and Driving Under the Influence

As an experienced attorney, people often ask me how the police can bring a charge of driving under the influence against them. They also wonder what the police use to determine whether you are drunk or under the influence of some kind of medication or elicit narcotic.

Initial Suspicion

The police may be following your car and notice that your vehicle is swerving over the line or perhaps you are driving too slow for the traffic situation and conditions. This would give them probable cause to stop your vehicle and at that point, they can approach the vehicle and may perceive other indications of possible intoxication.

Contact with Officer

If you are stopped by an officer, they may observe the smell of alcohol on your breath, slurred speech,  or stumbling with your documentation. They then have the ability to ask you to step out of your vehicle and they can then ask you to perform certain field sobriety tests.

Field Sobriety Tests

These are tests that can be used by police officer’s to establish a base line for their belief that you may be under the influence. It should be remembered that these test are not necessarily scientifically accurate. These tests include a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, which is basically looking into your pupils with a pen light, asking you to follow their light, pen or whatever object and they can measure a certain type of stutter in the progression of your eyes. if that stutter is apparent, it is an indication to the police that you may be under the influence of some sort of substance.

Also, they might ask you to recite certain letters of the alphabet, either from A to M or from M to A backwards or forwards. A person who is intoxicated would not be able to perform that type of test, however it is possible a someone not under the influence could fail that test as well.

Additionally, the officer can ask you to do what’s known as a walk and turn test which is where you basically take 9 steps forward, turn, and take 9 steps backward, in a heel to toe method.

There is also a test involving a one-legged stand where they ask you to stand still and lift one of your legs and keep it raised for a certain period of time. All of these particular field sobriety tests must be done in a very specific and proper manner in order for them to hold up in court. If these tests are given to you and they are not given to you properly, then they could form a defense to your underlying arrest for a drunk driving.

An Arrest

After an officer believes there is enough information or evidence to hold you accountable for a charge of a DWI, they will usually arrest you. They will bring you down to the state police station and ask you to perform a breathalyzer test. This is a machine that you blow into and after 2 or 3 samples they will take the readings. In New Jersey, readings that register .08 or higher are statutory evidence that you are intoxicated. These results can be used against you down the road when you appear in the municipal court to answer the charge.

If you have questions about police protocol for DUI’s contact the experienced attorneys at the Law Office of Sara Sencer McArdle. Our number is 973-366-5244. We offer FREE initial consultations.