A police officer can't immediately arrest someone they believe was driving while intoxicated. They must have probable cause to do so. In other words, the officer must be able to articulate why they suspected that the driver was under the influence and how that justified an arrest.
Gathering evidence to back their beliefs requires going through a series of steps. The officer is looking for clues that the driver is indeed impaired, meaning that the individual's normal faculties are compromised to the point that they cannot safely operate their vehicle.
Generally, the DWI arrest process consists of three phases: watching the vehicle, interviewing the driver, and observing the driver. At each stage, the officer will ask themselves whether reasonable suspicion exists to move onto the next step, and finally, whether probable cause exists to arrest the driver. Their decision will be based on all the evidence they identified throughout the process.
Watching the Vehicle
The DWI arrest process begins when the officer notices something about the vehicle suggesting that a violation has occurred. At this point, the officer does not necessarily have to believe that the driver is intoxicated. They might merely see something that warrants further investigation.
Some of the grounds the officer might have had to stop the vehicle include, but are not limited to:
- Moving violation
- Equipment violation
- Unusual driving behavior
- Expired registration
Of course, the officer might also reasonably suspect that the individual is under the influence because of their driving behaviors.
For instance, they might have seen any of the following, suggesting impairment:
- Running a red light
- Departing from their lane
Whether the officer believes that the driver committed a traffic violation or is driving while intoxicated, they will initiate the stop sequence. Their observation of the vehicle continues even while the driver is pulling over. The officer will pay attention to how the individual responded once lights and sirens were activated. For example, the officer may ask themselves whether the driver sped up, did not signal when moving to the side of the road, or failed to observe traffic control devices.
Interviewing the Driver
Once the driver has been stopped, the officer will approach the vehicle to ask the driver questions and observe their behavior. This is to determine whether the officer needs to direct the individual to participate in further testing to detect impairment.
During this second phase of the DWI arrest process, the officer will be scrutinizing everything as they approach the vehicle and speak with the driver. They will rely on their senses to determine whether evidence exists to suggest that the individual was drunk driving. The officer will attend to what they see, hear, and smell to decide whether moving on to the next phase is warranted.
For instance, the officer may observe whether the driver:
- Has trouble producing their license and registration,
- Gives slow or no responses to questions,
- Has bloodshot eyes,
- Smells of alcohol,
- Has slurred speech, or
- Has alcohol containers in their vehicle.
Additionally, the officer may use divided attention tasks to further their suspicions that the driver is intoxicated. Divided attention tasks require a person to do two or more things at once. If someone is drunk, focusing on multiple tasks simultaneously is difficult. Thus, if the driver cannot do something, such as produce documents and answer a question like "What's your middle name?", the officer may have reason to believe that alcohol has impaired the individual's ability to accurately process information.
Observing the Driver
If the evidence at the previous step suggests the driver is under the influence of alcohol, they may have the individual exit the vehicle and participate in pre-arrest screenings. Pre-arrest screenings typically involve the driver being subjected to field sobriety tests (FSTs).
The officer will pay attention to everything that happens, from when the driver gets out of their car to their performance on the FSTs. For instance, the officer will observe whether the individual struggled while exiting the vehicle or had trouble maintaining their balance while awaiting instructions.
Once the driver is out of their car, the officer may direct them to participate in the following standardized FSTs:
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN): This assessment requires the individual to follow a small object with their eyes only. The officer will be looking to see whether the driver's eyes start jerking when their gaze is moved in one direction or another.
- Walk and turn (WAT): In this test, the driver is instructed to walk heel-to-toe for nine steps in one direction, then turn and do the same in the other direction. The officer observes the individual's ability to maintain balance and follow instructions.
- One-leg stand (OLS): For this test, the driver must lift one leg and count aloud until told to stop. The officer is watching for the individual's ability to balance and pay attention to directions.
Another pre-arrest screening the officer might administer is a preliminary breath test (PBT). This assessment involves the driver blowing into a handheld breath analyzer to detect their blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
Note that the pre-arrest screenings are voluntary. The driver can refuse to participate in them and face no criminal penalties. Still, a refusal does not mean that an arrest will be avoided. The officer may rely on evidence gathered from the other two stages to determine whether to take the individual into custody.
As mentioned throughout this blog, an officer will carefully scrutinize everything that happens in each stage. If the evidence suggests that the driver was intoxicated, they will arrest the individual.
The driver may be charged with DWI and would have to go through the justice system to resolve their case.
Contact Our Firm Today
An officer might have gathered evidence against you in your DWI case, but that doesn't mean you don't have options. Depending on what happened when you were pulled over, questioned, and directed to participate in FSTs, avenues may be available to fight your charge.
At Deandra Grant Law, we are here to develop a defense strategy. We are prepared to seek a favorable resolution on your behalf.
To speak with a member of our Dallas team, please call us at (214) 225-7117 or contact us online today.