First of all, I hope you are never in this situation.
But here are some important things that people wish they’d known before they are stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence.
People are often confused about what happens next when blue lights come up behind them. It’s helpful to understand a typical DUI stop.
First of all, most people are nervous, whether they have only had a glass of wine or they know they’ve had too much to drink. It’s important to understand that if a law enforcement officer has been following you and pulls you over, he or she already suspects that you’re impaired. Most of the time, a DUI stop is made for speeding, broken tail light, or some other reason giving a law enforcement officer a reason to pull you over.
Building a Case
From the moment you are stopped, if the officer suspects a DUI, he will be noting every detail of the encounter in order to support a DUI case. Understand that everything about you is now under very close scrutiny. The officer will be looking for any sign of impairment. They’ll be paying attention to every detail: your demeanor, your face, your eyes, your speech, your coordination, and your ability to find and present your license and registration. (You’d be surprised at how many people pull out a credit card instead of a license, or forget about the fake ID they’re carrying in their wallet.)
At this point, take a deep breath. It’s important that you remain respectful and calm. Argumentative speech or combative behavior can quickly make the situation escalate and could result in additional charges against you. Have your information ready or know where it is so you can tell the officer, “It’s in my back pocket,” or “It’s in my purse.”
Next, you’ll likely be asked to perform field sobriety exercises. Again, this is part of collecting evidence that can be used to build a case against you. In Jacksonville, the deputy who makes the stop usually calls for a member of a DUI unit to perform this part of the investigation. Although all officers receive basic DUI training, the members of the DUI Unit specialize in DUI investigations. Their involvement a lot of times makes the State Attorney’s job easier.
What you might not know is that you can refuse to participate in field sobriety exercises. Since these exercise do not fall under the “implied consent” you provide when you are issued a driver’s license, so their refusal alone won’t cause you to lose your license.
During the interaction, the officer should read the Miranda warning to the person being investigated, after which anything they say can be used in court.
The officer will always ask “how much you had to drink?” Remember, everything you say will be recorded in the report and eventually used against you in Court. Remember that DUI stops are usually recorded on video. This is why the officers make the suspect perform the field sobriety exercises in front of their cars, so that the entire process is recorded and can be used during the criminal case.
When the officer thinks, there is enough evidence to arrest you, you’ll be handcuffed and taken to jail. You will spend the night in jail, as the law requires you to either be sober enough to be released or see a Judge. The next morning, at First Appearance, the Judge will sent bail and other conditions of your release. For example, in Jacksonville, it is common for a first time DUI offender to be placed in Pretrial Services Program, and some Judges require a SCRAM device even on a first DUI. SCRAM is an ankle bracelet which measures alcohol in your system every 20 minutes. I usually get the call from a family member or a friend of a person arrested for DUI, before first appearance. If that happens, I can attend the hearing with the arrested person and argue for a reduction of bail or release on his or her own recognizance.
What does the State have to prove to convict you of a DUI?
DUI cases are some of the most complicated criminal cases, because of the scientific evidence involved. Just like in every criminal case, it is important to look at what does the State have to prove in order to convict the person. So what are the elements of a DUI? In Florida, the State must prove that the person was 1. Either driving or in actual physical control of the vehicle AND 2. That the person’s breath or blood alcohol level was above .08 or his or her normal faculties were impaired. So, your ability to walk, talk, operate machinery, and perform a field sobriety exercises will be used by the prosecutor to prove the second element.
- One common misconception is that a breath test can be performed during the stop along the side of the road. Police officers making DUI stops do not have portable breathalyzers, so all breath tests are performed at the jail. Further, a breath test to determine your alcohol level must be performed by a certified breath test operator in order to be valid in court.
- Another assumption is that police can’t search your car without a warrant. That’s not true. After you are arrested, it is permissible to search the car. It is called search incident to arrest. Again, they’ll be looking for evidence: empty or open beer bottles or controlled substances, for example.
- If you have passed out behind the wheel, you cannot be found guilty of DUI. Not true. If you are in actual physical control of the car, you could be prosecuted for DUI. This comes up a lot with people leaving their keys in the ignition.
Bottom Line: Before you get behind the wheel after drinking anything, seriously consider whether you are prepared to face the consequences. Even DUI conviction in which no one is injured is extremely costly. It can cause you to lose your ability to earn a living, your savings, your driver’s license, and even your freedom.
Disclaimer: information provided in this article does not constitute legal advice.
Kate L. Mesic is the President of Mesic Law, specializing in business law and criminal defense.