During a routine traffic stop in Florida, an intoxicated driver will be on a public roadway, and the driver will either break a traffic law, be driving recklessly, or cause an accident. A police officer will signal for the driver to pull over and will approach the driver's window. Suppose the law enforcement officer suspects that the driver is intoxicated due to a strong odor of alcohol, open beer cans in the car, or slurred speech. In that case, the officer will ask the driver to step out of their motor vehicle. The officer will then perform a series of tests designed to detect an intoxicated driver.
During the stop, the officer will ask the driver if he had anything to drink that night. Even if the driver says no, the officer may continue forward with sobriety tests if the officer suspects that the driver is lying or underestimating how much he had to drink that night. There may be other circumstantial evidence of intoxication present to give the officer reasonable suspicion to conduct sobriety tests.
If the authorities ever ask you whether you drank alcohol before getting behind the wheel, you are not required to answer the question! Many clients make the mistake of responding to the officer to explain themselves or in hopes of receiving lenience. Anything you say "can and will be used against you" in a DUI prosecution.
After questioning, the police officer will then conduct field sobriety tests. These include walking heel-to-toe in a straight line and standing on one leg. Also, the officer may request that the driver consent to a breathalyzer test. If the driver consents, he will be asked to blow into a machine. The machine will analyze his breath to determine the presence of alcohol and will provide a reading known as the B.A.C. percentage. A B.A.C. over 0.08 is illegal in Florida. However, a B.A.C. of 0.05 to 0.08 is a grey area. A jury may find that one driver's faculties were impaired at 0.06 but not another driver's. In these types of cases, additional evidence of impairment will usually be presented by the prosecutor's office. In addition, the police officer may also request a blood and/or urine test to detect alcohol. Remember: if you refuse a test, you face at least one year of driver's license suspension as a penalty.
If the police officer now has sufficient evidence to reach probable cause, the officer will arrest the driver for DUI. The driver's car will be towed, inventoried, and impounded, and the driver will be taken to the local sheriff's department to be processed. In many cases, the driver will be released that night and given a citation to appear in court. In cases of extreme intoxication, a lengthy criminal record, or a history of DUI convictions, however, the driver may be held until he appears before a criminal judge for arraignment.
How a Law Enforcement Officer Decides Whether You Are or Not Intoxicated
If you or a loved one are arrested and charged with a DUI, this is a serious criminal matter, and in Florida, DUIs are prosecuted heavily. And, with a conviction, you face not only potential jail time but also a permanent criminal record as well as other life-altering consequences. In Florida, it is against the law to drive:
- Under the influence of drugs or alcohol if either impairs your "normal faculties" or
- With a blood alcohol concentration (B.A.C.) of 0.08 or higher.
Most of the time, when a law enforcement officer stops your motor vehicle, the officer does know what you have been doing that evening. The officer may ask you to step out of your motor vehicle. Do not allow law enforcement officers to arrest you on other or additional charges. If the stop was unwarranted, you might wonder what gave the police officer reason to believe you were intoxicated.
What Are the Grounds for a Traffic Stop in the State of Florida?
A significant percentage of DUI arrests in Florida begins with:
- A traffic violation;
- Reckless or careless driving; or
- An accident.
When a driver violates a traffic law by running a red light or causes a hit-and-run accident, the police will stop the driver, issue a traffic ticket, and will begin an investigation to determine if the driver is intoxicated by drugs or alcohol. If the driver is driving carelessly by not using turning signals, veering into other lanes, swerving, driving on the wrong side of the street, or driving very slow, police will make a traffic stop. In addition, if a driver causes an accident, the police will arrive at the accident scene and evaluate both drivers for intoxicated driving.
Not only does your driving create suspicion of drunk driving, but your behavior during the traffic stop is also noted by law enforcement. Law enforcement officers watch the driver and passengers inside the car before exiting their cruiser. This is to look for suspicious actions. As the officer approaches a vehicle during a traffic stop, the officer will try to smell beer, marijuana, or any other smell that would create probable cause to search the vehicle and/or perform roadside sobriety tests on the driver. Law enforcement officers are trained to listen for slurred speech, look for red eyes, and look for clumsiness when the driver is handling things like their driver's license and proof of insurance. If the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe the driver is intoxicated, the officer will continue with a DUI investigation. The threshold for reasonable suspicion in a DUI investigation is very low. In other words, the officer does not need an overwhelming amount of evidence to give a driver a sobriety test or initiate a DUI investigation.
Roadside Sobriety Tests in Florida DUI Investigations
When a driver is ordered to get out of their motor vehicle, the police officer will then attempt to confirm their suspicion of drunk driving by having the driver perform a few roadside field sobriety tests.
One effective test to determine the level of intoxication is the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test. This is the well known "follow my pen with your eyes" test that most people are familiar with. This test helps the officer check your involuntary reaction time. Alcohol slows a person's reaction time making this a difficult test to trick or pass if intoxicated.
The "heel-to-toe" or "walk a straight line" test is exactly as the test's name implies. The driver is asked to walk in a straight line while placing their feet heel-to-toe, turn around, and repeat the "heel-to-toe" process back to the police officer. This Sobriety tests the driver's ability or listen to instructions and test the driver's balance. The ability to remember instructions and maintain balance indicates the test taker may be impaired.
One other sobriety test, the "stand on one leg without falling" test has the driver stand on one leg, raise their other leg, and hold that position without wobbling, putting their foot back down, or falling. This is another sobriety test aimed at the driver's ability to maintain their balance. Some officers will also have the driver recite the alphabet backward or close their eyes and touch the tip of their nose while in the one-legged position.
Once the basic field sobriety tests have been conducted, in front of the police cruiser's video camera, which is recording evidence against the driver, the officer may escalate the DUI investigation to include a basic breathalyzer test. A breathalyzer test will present an alcohol reading, which ranges from 0.00 to 1.00, to determine the driver's Blood Alcohol Concentration of B.A.C. A reading of a 0.08 B.A.C. is prima facie evidence of a drunk driver.
When the police officer has produced sufficient evidence for suspicion of driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the officer may arrest you for DUI. After the arrest and while at the police station, the driver will be given another test. The test will either be a urine test or a blood test. This will provide a more accurate reading and will also confirm the presence of alcohol in the driver's system.
Consult with an Aggressive Florida DUI Defense Lawyer if You or a Loved One Have Being Arrested for Driving Under the Influence
If you or a loved one have been arrested and charge with DUI, contact Musca Law. Our law firm has office locations throughout the State of Florida to assist clients accused of driving under the influence. In many cases, our DUI Defense Attorneys can help you by arguing for reduced penalties, probation or diversion, dismissal of charges, or an acquittal! Protect your driving privileges and your criminal record by calling Musca Law today at 888-484-5057 for assistance with defending against DUI criminal charges.