All DUI cases are unique. Some cases result in the defendant smashing into a police car and killing someone, some result in the suspect voluntarily blowing a .01 on scene without incident and shortly thereafter being released. But there are an astounding amount of boilerplate similarities that appear in every DUI police report. It’s almost as if the police know what to write to make a better case for conviction with the prosecutors and courts.
A cop has to have probable cause to believe that you have either committed a crime or committed a traffic infraction to pull you over in the first place. If you fail to signal, if you’re speeding, if you have a malfunctioning light or have your headlights off at night etc. he has the right to stop you. If this is the worst of it and you haven’t been drinking/using drugs, you can expect you’ll get a ticket and be allowed to be on your way.
If you’ve been stopped by a police officer in your car and you have been drinking or using drugs - especially if it’s at night or on a weekend - you can expect that the officer will already be conducting a DUI investigation in his mind. From the moment he walks up to your car, even if you weren’t swerving or driving in a way to suggest possible DUI (pretextual stop or not), he’s going to be examining your demeanor and literally investigating the air around you.
His goal at this point is to gather as much information and evidence against you to suggest DUI that he has probable cause to arrest you for DUI. Here’s what the courts have said about probable cause in a DUI situation:
“Probable cause to arrest exists where the totality of the facts and circumstances known to the officers at the time of arrest would warrant a reasonably cautious person to believe an offense is being committed. Probable cause to arrest requires more than "a bare suspicion of criminal activity, but does not require facts that would establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Probable cause is also been defined as a reasonable ground of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to warrant a cautious man in believing the accused to be guilty.”
So what do the police and courts and prosecutors look at as totality of the facts and circumstances? Fumbling of license/insurance/registration is commonly written in the police report. Slurred speech, red and watery bloodshot eyes are often observations the police include. “Odor of intoxicants,” or better yet something like “obvious odor of intoxicants” is a favorite phrase the cops use. IF you tell them you’ve been drinking, it’s almost a guarantee that will find its way to print. If your clothing is disorderly, if you’re combative or aggressive or non-responsive these are all things the cop will note. If the officer sees most of these signs present coupled with the original reason for the stop, it is likely that he will have probable cause to arrest for DUI at this point, but they usually don’t stop there.
Next on his agenda, he will ask you if you wouldn’t mind performing some VOLUNTARY field sobriety tests. Re-read the last sentence. Yes, they are voluntary. If you have been drinking or using drugs and you agree to these voluntary tests, you can bet that in the future report you did horribly on all of them. And these tests will all be used against you in court because you agreed to do them(totality of the facts and circumstances). The officer will also ask you if you’d mind taking a VOLUNTARY portable breath test on scene. This will also be used against you, because you volunteered to take part in it. Let it be known that coupled with other evidence, it is not completely uncommon for prosecutors to move forward on DUI prosecutions with a breath test of .06 or .07, even though it is below the limit.
At this point, if the officer is satisfied you are DUI, he will place you under arrest, read you your rights, and put you in the back of the squad car. He will transport you to the police station where you will be booked and prepped for the Datamaster Breath Test Machine at the station. THIS TEST IS MANDATORY. If you refuse this test, it is likely that your license will be suspended for a year if it is your first time.
This is just a brief overview of a DUI traffic stop in Washington State. If you have any questions about DUI laws, contact an attorney immediately. If you’ve been arrested for DUI, contact an attorney immediately. Washington State has strict DUI laws. The sooner you have legal counsel to assist you with your charge, the better.
Featured photo from Flickr user JSmith, labeled for reuse under Creative Commons.