When a police officer requires a driver to pull over, they must be able to provide a reason for the stop. Similarly, a police officer cannot arrest or detain someone without reason, which means they will be building a body of evidence as the encounter progresses. Many times, law enforcement relies on “visible impairment” as the foundation for making a traffic stop for suspected DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while intoxicated or impaired). Understanding what officers are looking for, as well as their most common actions afterward, can help you preserve your rights during a traffic stop.
When Does Visible Impairment Come Into Play?
Visible impairment is the first observation by a law enforcement officer, that an individual may be driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or driving while otherwise impaired. An officer may use evidence of visible impairment as part of their testimony in conjunction with the results of any on-site sobriety tests and other assessments. Drivers should be aware of what constitutes visual signs of impairment, which may be sufficient to provide probable cause in court.
Commonly Associated Signs of Visible Impairment
Some of the more commonly noted signs of visible impairment when police officers suspect a DUI include slurred speech and general coordination dysfunction. An officer will likely notice that the individual is unable to speak clearly or form coherent thoughts, and may consider this to be evidence of intoxication, or being under the influence of a substance. The purpose of a field sobriety test is to assess your coordination by asking the individual to complete simple tasks such as follow a spot of light with their eyes, or walk in a straight line with arms out to the sides. Failure to be able to do this supports the officer’s suspicion of impaired driving, regardless of the results of blood or breath testing.
Law enforcement may also consider the generalized behavior of the individual to determine if they are behaving appropriately. Being particularly aggressive or erratic will likely end a case with a negative outcome in court. The odor of marijuana, pupil size and bloodshot eyes may be associated with impairment by substances which are prohibited while driving. An officer will take note of the entirety of the scene, not just your person, regarding visible impairment.
Visible Impairment May Lead to Further Testing
While visible signs of impairment are often sufficient to establish probable cause in cases of driving under the influence or while intoxicated, they may lead to further testing to provide confirmation. Field sobriety tests are one possibility, as are chemical tests or a PBT (preliminary breath test). Field sobriety tests consist of several skill tests which may demonstrate a lack of motor skills if the individual is impaired. A PBT test, also known as a roadside breath, is taken by a small, handheld device in which you will be asked to blow. The device will analyze the contents of your breath to determine whether you have been drinking and driving, by calculating your blood alcohol level.
Your Rights For Testing And Penalties
You may elect to turn down a roadside breath test; however, if you do, be prepared to be arrested, as the officer may take your refusal to comply as a reason to detain you. When you return to the police station, you will be asked to take a full breathalyzer test to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC). It is important to comply with this step of the process, as it is mandatory to take the breath test at the station. By virtue of operating a vehicle, you consent to taking a breathalyzer test if an officer suspects that you are impaired while operating that vehicle. Failure to comply with this test may result in being charged with a Refusal, in addition to the DUI and any other applicable charges. The penalties for a Refusal are separate from the DUI charge. Refusing a BAC test does not prevent you from being charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and you may also still be convicted without a BAC reading.
Work With Skilled Attorneys For The Best Outcomes
If you have recently been charged with driving under the influence, the attorneys at The Law Offices of Kermit A. Monge would be happy to help you explore potential options to reduce your penalties or even have your case dismissed. Contact our offices to discuss your case and schedule a consultation.