DUI Frequently Asked Questions

 

  • Can a police officer stop a vehicle for any reason?
    No, unless the police conduct a lawful checkpoint. With the exception of a checkpoint, to lawfully stop a vehicle a police officer must have either probable cause to believe that a traffic infraction has occurred (Such as speeding or running a stop sign), or the officer must have reasonable suspicion that a crime is occurring (An example is a DUI). A police officer must have either probable cause or reasonable suspicion, because the act of stopping of a vehicle is a seizure and the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.
     
  • What happens when a police officer suspects that a driver is under the influence?
    After a police officer stops a vehicle, he or she typically asks the driver for their license, registration and proof of insurance. At this time, the officer may make several observations of an impaired driver: the strong odor of alcohol on the driver’s breath, a flushed face, bloodshot and watery eyes and slurred speech. Based on these initial findings, the officer has reasonable suspicion that the driver is under the influence and can legally detain the driver for the purpose of conducting field sobriety exercises.
     
  • What are Field Sobriety Exercises?
    There are three standardized field sobriety exercises given by a police officer to a suspected impaired driver for the purpose of gathering more inculpatory evidence against the driver. The exercises are the: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Walk and Turn (WAT), and the One-Leg Stand (OLS).

    • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN): HGN is an involuntary jerking of the eye that occurs naturally as the eyes gaze to the side. Nystagmus may occur in people who are completely sober, often when the eyes are rotated at high peripheral angles. Nystagmus may also occur at lesser angles in people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The officer gives the driver the HGN test by having the driver follow a stimulus (such as a pen) horizontally with his or her eyes. The officer looks for three clues of impairment: the inability to follow the stimulus smoothly, distinct jerking of the eye at maximum deviation and if the angle of onset of jerking is within 45 degrees of the center. The officer gives this test to the driver in both eyes. Some research has shown that 88 percent of drivers who exhibits 4 or more clues of impairment will have a breath alcohol level of .08 or higher.
       
    • Walk and Turn (WAT): The walk and turn exercise is a divided attention task. Divided attention tasks require a person to both mentally listen to instructions and physically perform those instructions. An impaired driver may have difficulty performing divided attention tasks.

      The walk and turn is administered by the officer asking the driver to place his or her right foot in front of the left foot with the hands by the side. Next, the officer tells the driver not to begin the exercise until instructed, and then tells the driver to take 9 steps, heel-to-toe in straight line. The officer then tells the driver to turn in a prescribed manner, and to walk 9 steps heel-to-toe back up the line. The driver is instructed to count the steps out loud, to look at his or her feet, to keep his or her hands by the side, and not to stop until finished.

      The officer is looking for 8 clues of impairment: inability to maintain balance during the instruction phase, beginning the exercise before instructed, stops walking to regain balance, inability touch heel-to-toe, steps off the line, uses arms for balance, makes an improper turn, or takes the incorrect number of steps. Some research has shown that 79 percent of individuals who have two or more clues of impairment will have a breath alcohol content of .08 or higher.
       

    • One Leg Stand (OLS): The one leg stand is also a divided attention task. The walk and turn is administered by the officer asking the driver to put his or her feet together side by side with the arms by the side. The officer tells the driver to keep that position until instructed to begin. The officer then tells the driver, “When I tell you to, raise either foot 6 inches off the ground like this.” The officer demonstrates by raising either foot 6 inches off the ground, and then tells the driver to look at the foot and count out loud “one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, etc.” until told to stop. The officer has this exercise go on for thirty seconds, but does not tell this to the driver.

      The officer looks for four clues of impairment: swaying while balancing, using arms to balance, hopping to maintain balance, putting the foot down. Some research shows that 83 percent of drivers who exhibit two or more clues will have a breath alcohol content of .08 or higher.

      Police officers often administer other exercises that are non-standardized including the alphabet test, finger to nose test and the rhomberg test.
       

  • May a driver refuse to perform field sobriety exercises?
    Yes, field sobriety exercises are completely voluntary. However, if a driver refuses to perform the exercises he or she will most likely be arrested, because the officer will say to the driver that he or she has not “dispelled his suspicion of DUI.” Remember that at this point the officer already suspects the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, based on his or her initial observations of the driver (Bloodshot/water eyes, slurred speech, etc.) On the other hand, if the driver does not perform the field sobriety exercises to the officer’s satisfaction, then the driver will also be arrested, and the state attorney may have more evidence to use against the driver. Refusing to perform field sobriety exercises does not result in a driver’s license suspension.
     
  • What are normal faculties?
    Normal faculties include, but are not limited to the ability to see, hear, walk, talk, judge distances drive an automobile, make judgments, act in emergencies and in general, to normally perform the many mental and physical acts of our daily lives.

    At a trial, the prosecutor’s job is to elicit sufficient facts to show that the driver’s normal faculties were impaired, because impairment of normal faculties is an element to DUI. If the driver performed field sobriety exercises, then the state attorney would ask questions to the officer to show poor performance. For example, if the driver performed the walk and turn exercise, and took an incorrect number of steps or could not maintain balance, then the prosecutor during closing argument would try to argue that the driver’s normal faculties for walking were impaired. In short, poor performance on field sobriety exercises allows the prosecutor to argue that the driver’s normal faculties were impaired. 

    In short, poor performance on field sobriety exercises allows the prosecutor to argue that the driver’s normal faculties were impaired.