Police in the District of Columbia take a tough approach to DUI enforcement. While each individual case is different, there are certain patterns police officers follow when making a DUI stop in DC. A typical DUI stop involves pulling someone over for a traffic violation. It could be something serious like speeding or driving recklessly or something as simple as failing to use a blinker when pulling out of a parking spot.
Immediately upon approach, the police officer will start making observations of the individual driver. The odor of alcohol, red eyes, slurred speech, or trouble finding one’s license and registration can all serve to heighten the police officer’s suspicion that the driver is intoxicated. Sometimes police will ask tricky or open-ended questions to get the driver talking. The officer’s purpose is to get more of an opportunity to observe the driver to determine whether probable cause or a reasonable suspicion exists to further investigate the potential DUI arrest.
Oftentimes, the police officer will ask the driver if they have had anything to drink. If the driver answers yes (regardless of whether they say they have had one drink or twenty), most often the officer will then ask the driver to step outside the vehicle. It’s important to know that at every point during the interaction, the officer is observing and studying the driver’s behavior. If you have trouble exiting the vehicle, it’s likely the officer will document that for his DUI police report. If the officer thinks your speech is slurred or you speak with a so-called “thick-tongue,” the officer will note that for his or her report.
Unfortunately, in some cases, no matter what you do in the interaction, the police officer will view it through a lens of suspicion. We have seen reports where the officer puts down that the driver was “too talkative” as support for evidence of intoxication. On the other hand, we have seen reports where the officer puts that the person has a “blank stare” and uses that as support for evidence of intoxication. It can truly be a damned if you do, damned if you don’t type situation.
The main reason the police will ask the driver to step outside the vehicle during a DUI investigation is to conduct the standardized field sobriety tests. The standardized field sobriety tests involve three tests developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These tests include the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (or “HGN Test”), the walk and turn, and the one-leg stand. Each test has a standardized list of cues the officer is looking to observe to make an arrest determination. The HGN Test has 6 possible cues (three in each eye). If you exhibit four of six cues on the HGN, its very likely the officer will find probable cause and make the DUI arrest.
The walk and turn test has eight possible cues and the one-leg stand has four possible cues. Unfortunately, the officer will not tell you what the cues are he or she is looking for. That means you are essentially expected to take a test without knowing how to pass. Many DUI lawyers will argue that these tests are designed for the suspect to fail.
At this point, it’s likely the officer has had about 15 to 20 minutes to observe your behavior since the initial stop. The officer will put all the things in the report he or she thinks are indicative of intoxication and inform you that you are under arrest for Driving under the Influence. Typically, the officer will call for a transport. Once you get to the police station, they will likely ask for a chemical (blood, breath, or urine test). Check out our Part II of this post to find out what usually happens at the station.
If you are someone you know is pulled over and arrested for DUI, contact Jay P. Mykytiuk Trial Attorney immediately for a full case evaluation by calling 202.630.1522.