The Following is a guest post from Scott Distasio, founder of the Distasio Law Firm, a personal injury firm in Tampa, which focuses on all types of personal injury cases. His work represents his belief that all firms should provide outstanding service to their clients.
If you are ever involved in a traffic stop for alleged drunken driving, it’s definitely in your best interests to know the procedures that are involved. No matter what the outcome, knowledge of your rights and the process will ensure that you are treated fairly. Here are some of the most common questions.
What is the legal limit in my state?
No matter what state you’re driving in, the legal Blood Alcohol Concentration limit is the same. If it is determined that you were operating a vehicle with a BAC of .08% or over, you are in violation of the law.
Does the officer have to read me my rights?
Not until you are actually arrested. From the time the officer pulls you over for possibly driving under the influence, through answering any questions, going through field sobriety tests, and even submitting to field testing, such as a breathalyzer, you are simply a suspect.
Your Miranda Rights apply once you are in custody. This can happen at the scene. At this point, the arresting officer is required to read you your rights, and you have the option to remain silent.
What are some of the reasons I could be pulled over?
You could be pulled over for erratic driving – such as weaving across lanes, going unusually slow, or driving in a way that alerts an officer that you might be under the influence, or that your behavior warrants a traffic stop to ensure public safety.
If, after you are pulled over, they note other possible indicators, such as bloodshot eyes, the smell of alcohol, slurred speech, or other signs of impairment, they may perform additional tests.
What are the tests they use at a traffic stop?
If an officer suspects that you are under the influence of alcohol, they will perform field sobriety tests on the roadside. These have been standardized by The Standardized Field Sobriety Test ( SFST). When performed by trained officers, they have been found to be more than 90% accurate at determining drivers under the influence.
- One Leg Stand – You’ll be asked to stand on one foot, while holding the other about 6” above the ground. While holding the position, you’ll be asked to count off numbers by one, starting with one thousand. This will be done for 30 seconds, while you are watched for movements of your arms to help your balance, putting the foot back down, hopping, or swaying.
- Walk and Turn – You’ll be instructed to walk in a straight line for nine steps, placing each foot heel-to-toe as you walk. At the end of nine steps, you must turn on one foot, and walk back in the same fashion. There are 8 separate signs that you will be observed for in this test, including starting the test before the directions are finished, taking the incorrect number of steps, swaying while the instructions are given, and stopping partway through the steps to regain your balance.
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus – This is a long term for the involuntary eye movements that can occur when a person is under the influence. You’ll be asked to follow the movements of an object that is being moved horizontally in front of your eyes. The officer will be looking for any abnormalities of movement, such as your eyes jerking or not moving smoothly.
If you fail these tests, the official may ask you to submit to chemical testing.
Can I refuse a Breathalyzer test?
All states have an “Implied Consent” law that requires you to submit to testing if you’ve been arrested for driving under the influence. Refusal can lead to the suspension of your license on the spot, as well as your vehicle being impounded. Although some repeat offenders try to beat the system by refusing to take the test in the field, the accuracy of determining the Blood Alcohol Content at the time of the arrest is quite good, even when performed later.
Although the circumstances surrounding your traffic stop will vary by state and other variables, you can be prepared for what happens. Know your rights, know the procedures, and try to avoid any situations that will put you at risk of being behind the wheel and driving while impaired.