Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How Oklahoma Cops Detect and Detain Suspected Drunk Drivers: Part Two

In our first post of this DUI Detection series, which covers the “DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing” guidelines for police officers, we covered the first phase (“vehicle in motion”) of the three-phase process that police use when making the determination of whether to stop a driver on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. This post continues addresses the second phase, “personal contact.”

 We should note at the outset that the three-phase sequence -- vehicle in motion, personal contact and pre-arrest screening -- do not need to be followed in order. It is possible for a police officer to skip the first phase and go directly to the second; a common way this can happen is at a DUI checkpoint, or when the officer is responding to the scene of a car accident.

 The purpose of the personal contact phase is for the officer to observe the driver while still in the car and to assess whether signs exist that suggest that the driver may be impaired. Depending on how this face-to-face interaction progresses, the officer will eventually decide whether the driver is sober, whether to go to the third phase and ask the driver to exit the vehicle so that field sobriety tests can be administered, or to arrest the driver based on probable cause of DUI.

 When the officer begins the personal contact with the driver, he or she will be relying on sensory cues to assess the driver’s state of sobriety. These cues include:
       Visual: The officer will be looking for intoxication-related symptoms such as bloodshot eyes, alcohol containers in the car, drugs or drug paraphernalia, unusual actions, soiled clothing, or shaky hands and fingers.
       Audible: The officer will be listening for the driver’s admission that he or she has been drinking, slurred speech, inconsistent answers to questions, abusive language or unusual statements.
       Smell: The officer will note whether the odor of alcohol or marijuana is present, or if the driver has been using something like candies or breath sprays as an attempt to cover up such odors, as well as noticing whether other unusual odors are present in the vehicle.
Police officers are trained in interview techniques that impaired drivers will have difficulty with, most notably questions that require the driver to satisfactorily demonstrate divided attention tasks. For example, the officer may ask for the driver to do or produce two things at the same time, or may interrupt the driver’s answer with another question (suddenly asking for the time or the date, or what the driver’s middle name is), or using other techniques such as having the driver recite the alphabet or do a verbal countdown.  

During this questioning, the officer will be looking for tip-off behaviors. For example, when asked for a driver’s license and registration, does the driver forget to provide both, or provide a document other than one requested? Does the driver seem to be fumbling for the documents?  This is a divided attention test whereby the officer is intentionally asking you to do several things at one time to see if you are able to comply. 

If the questioning leads the officer to suspect intoxication, then he or she will usually instruct the driver to exit the vehicle. Even then the officer will be observing for symptoms, such as the driver’s inability to follow instructions, inability to open the door, leaning against the vehicle or having to use the hands to steady his or herself. 

In our next post in this series, we will go over what the officer may do in the third phase, the pre-arrest screening once the driver has exited the vehicle. 

The Oklahoma DUI Lawyers as well as most of our support staff at the Hunsucker Legal Group are trained and certified in NHTSA DWI Detection and Field Sobriety Testing.  Our goal is that we will be better trained and have more knowledge that the prosecutor and the police officer when we step into a courtroom to protect our clients.  For a free consultation, please call 405-231-5600 or visit www.okdui.com
John Hunsucker