When law enforcement officers are on patrol, there are certain steps they will take to identify and arrest drunk drivers. These stages of “DUI detection” are used to locate drunk drivers and then gather enough evidence to make an arrest. While specific training, procedures, and guidelines may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the following three stages offer basic insight on the methods Florida police may use to make DUI arrests in Tampa and across the state.
Step 1: Vehicle in Motion
The first stage of any DUI arrest occurs when an officer observes a vehicle in operation. If an officer’s attention is drawn to a vehicle because of erratic driving, a traffic violation, or another cue, the officer will decide whether to stop the vehicle. Law enforcement has the authority to pull a driver over to the side of the road if there is reasonable suspicion that a traffic violation or crime has occurred or is occurring.
The following are examples of conduct or cues that Florida police may look for:
- Swerving out of a designated lane
- Weaving in and out of traffic
- Driving too slowly
- Ignoring traffic lights or signals
- Headlights/taillights broken or off
- Expired registration
- Almost hitting an object or vehicle
- Following too closely
- Making an illegal turn
Officers will also look for dangerous driving or unexpected behavior when they turn on their lights and siren to pull a driver over. They will be observing everything to try to see if the driver may be under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
Step 2: Personal Contact
The second stage involves personal contact between the driver and the officer. In some cases, this may occur without stage one, such as at a DUI checkpoint or after an accident. This stage of the DUI detection process begins as soon as the officer and the driver have stopped their vehicles.
First, the officer will interview and observe the driver. They’ll look for cues such as:
- Soiled clothing
- Bloodshot eyes
- Containers of alcohol
- Drugs or drug paraphernalia
- Slurred speech
- Admission of drinking
- Inconsistent responses
- The smell of alcohol or marijuana
- Scents used to cover these smells
The officer may also look for mistakes, like a driver forgetting to provide both license and registration after being asked for them. Producing the wrong documents or fumbling around may also be considered initial signs of intoxication.
Officers who have pulled drivers over for DUI will also ask specific questions that divide the driver’s attention. They’ll be listening to the driver’s answers and observing for cues of impairment.
Some questions at a DUI stop may include:
- What day is it?
- Where are you coming from/going?
- What’s your middle name?
- Have you been drinking?
The officer may ask these questions while a driver is looking for their license and vehicle registration, as an added distraction.
Step 3: Pre-Arrest Screening
The third and final stage of the DUI detection process is the pre-arrest screening, where the officer will administer field sobriety tests. These tests are used to determine whether there is probable cause to arrest the driver for DUI. They are used to test balance, coordination, and the driver’s ability to follow instructions. All of these things may be negatively impacted by alcohol or drugs, and the officer will be looking for specific clues during the driver’s performance to see if he or she may be intoxicated.
The three standardized field sobriety tests are:
- The walk-and-turn, where the driver is asked to walk heel-to-toe for nine steps in one direction, turn on one foot, and walk back in the same manner.
- The one-leg stand, where the driver must stand with arms out and one foot off the ground while counting aloud.
- The horizontal gaze nystagmus, where the driver is asked to follow an object with his or her eyes.
Grading field sobriety tests is not done based on an officer’s “hunch” or suspicions. There are specific cues that the officer will look for, and a driver who displays a certain number of these will be considered intoxicated or impaired. After the officer has administered field sobriety tests (or if the driver has refused to take these tests), they’ll decide whether to make an arrest or release the driver.
Arrested? Contact Thomas & Paulk Today for a Free Consultation!
If you’re pulled over for DUI in the Tampa area, you need to remember that you have rights. It’s easy to forget when faced with a law enforcement officer who is asking you questions and requesting that you step out of the vehicle to perform roadside tests. You have the right to refuse to answer an officer’s questions, beyond providing your name, license, and registration. You do not have to submit to field sobriety tests. You have the right to an attorney. Be polite and do not physically resist, but if you know and exercise your rights, you will have a far better chance of avoiding an arrest and conviction.
Call (813) 321-7323 today to talk to our Tampa DUI lawyers about your case.