When a law enforcement officer conducts a drunk driving stop, several critical elements come into play. These concerns are designed to ensure that the stop is lawful and that any evidence of intoxication is accurately assessed.
Understanding these elements is essential for drivers, especially if they face a drunk driving charge.
Reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop
Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard that permits officers to initiate a traffic stop. This means that the officer must have a specific reason to believe that a law violation has occurred or is occurring. This could be observing behaviors such as swerving, erratic driving, speeding or violating traffic laws. It’s not enough for an officer to have a hunch. They must articulate specific behaviors or signs that justify the stop.
Standardized field sobriety test
Once a vehicle is stopped, if the officer suspects the driver is under the influence, they may conduct a standardized field sobriety test (SFST). This is a series of three tests designed to assess a driver’s physical and cognitive abilities, helping the officer determine if the driver is impaired.
The three tests typically include:
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, where the officer observes the eyes as the driver follows a moving object like a pen
- Walk-and-turn test, which assesses the driver’s ability to walk in a straight line and turn before walking back to the original location
- One-leg stand test, where the driver is asked to stand on one leg and remain balanced for a specific period
Performance on these tests can provide further evidence of impairment.
Chemical testing for blood alcohol concentration
If the officer has probable cause to believe the driver is intoxicated based on the traffic stop and SFST results, they can request a chemical test to measure the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). This is typically done through a breathalyzer test at the scene, or blood or urine tests might be conducted at a medical facility.
Refusal to submit to certain tests post-arrest can result in legal consequences, such as license suspension because of implied consent laws. These tests are also often critical in establishing evidence for a drunk driving charge.
Any issues or irregularities that may arise with regard to these concerns may become critical components in a defense strategy. Working with a legal representative who can assist in developing that strategy is beneficial for those who are facing charges and are unsure about how these concerns may impact their case.