Being a criminal defense lawyer for over 18+ years, I am commonly asked by clients, friends, and family "what happens during a DUI traffic stop?" A DUI is an offense under Florida law. A DUI offense is typically proved by impairment of "normal faculties" or unlawful blood alcohol or breath alcohol level of .08 or above. Additionally, if you are being charged for your first DUI in Palm Beach County, Florida, you may be able to partake in the Palm Beach County DUI Diversion Program which will answer questions such as:
- Am I eligible for the 1st Time DUI Offender Program?
- What makes me ineligible the 1st Time DUI Offender Program?
- What are the terms and conditions of the 1st Time DUI Offender Program?
- Why the 1st Time DUI Offender Program might not be right for you
What Occurs During a DUI Traffic Stop in the State of Florida?
No DUI stop is the same, but they should all follow a certain pattern. For a field sobriety test to take place, your car must be pulled over or you must be at least inside your vehicle. If you are pulled over for a traffic infraction, but the officer believes your driving may also be impaired, this may reasonable cause for the officer to also conduct a field sobriety test. When the officer asks for your license and registration, they will take note of your ability to obtain this information without fumbling. It is best to keep your license and registration in a safe place away from clutter so you know exactly where it is at all times. I personally keep my registration and proof of insurance in a separate binder in my vehicle's glove compartment. Doing so can help reduce the risk of an officer conducting a field sobriety test especially if you are not impaired.
What Do Police Look For When Suspected of DUI?
When an officer suspects you may be driving under the influence of alcohol, they will often look for common signs of impairment such as:
- The odor of alcohol in a car
- Slurred speech
- Glassy eyes
- Bloodshot eyes
- Slow motor skills
- Impaired cognitive function
- Driving too slowly
- Erratic driving or weaving
What Types of DUI Roadside Tests Can the Officer Ask Me to Perform?
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Field Sobriety Test (HGN)
One of the most common tests performed when testing field sobriety is the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN). The HGN test occurs when an when the officer will hold a pen up to your face and ask you to follow the pen with your eyes only. Since alcohol depresses the nervous system, it has a large effect on one's ability to control sideways eye movements in a smooth and accurate manner. Most officers in the state of Florida are not a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE), therefore, they cannot testify in court the results of their findings. This is one of the most accurate ways to gauge if one is impaired by drugs or alcohol while operating a motor vehicle.
Walking Heel-to-Toe/Walk and Turn Field Sobriety Test
The walk-and-turn field sobriety test is divided into two stages that are instruction and performance. The officer conducting the test will note your ability to follow basic instructions such as standing heel-to-toe with your arms at the side while they explain or demonstrate exactly how the test should be performed. Additionally, you will be asked to take heel-to-toe steps on an imaginary line nine times, turn, and repeat. If you cannot follow instructions, stop while walking, stumble, use arms to balance, or take the incorrect number of steps the officer may consider you as impaired. According to the NHTSA, the walk-and-turn test has only a 66% accuracy rate—and that's when it's administered according to their guidelines. If you were charged with DUI after taking the field sobriety tests, it may be possible to call their accuracy into question in an effort to challenge your results.
One-Leg Stand Field Sobriety Test
In the one-leg stand field sobriety test, you will choose one leg to raise roughly six inches off the ground. You will then be asked for your arms to be held at your side and to tilt your head back counting to thirty. In this field sobriety test, the officer will note if your leg goes down as you count, if you lose balance, or your ability to keep track of thirty seconds.
Finger-to-nose Field Sobriety Test
One of the last field sobriety tests an officer may conduct is the finger-to-nose test. In this test, you'll be asked to keep your arms at your side, tilt your head back, close your eyes and touch your nose repeatedly with your left then right hand. You may also be asked to say the alphabet after this test in the same stance. An officer should never ask you to repeat the alphabet backwards or skip letters as this is a common myth and not standardized.
If you've been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, contact us immediately at (561) 671-5995 or by clicking here and our experienced criminal defense attorney will provide the help you need. You can also download our free guide 'What You Must Know About Your DUI Case Before You Do Anything'.