If the police suspect you are driving under the influence ("DUI"), they will begin a DUI investigation. Like any criminal investigation, a DUI investigation can be very stressful and sometimes confusing. Understanding how a DUI investigation is normally conducted can help you get through it without unwittingly providing police with "evidence" of guilt. The way you handle a DUI investigation will probably not alter the officer's decision to to charge you or take you to jail, but it can certainly improve your chances of fighting a DUI charge in court. A Tucson DUI investigation usually goes as follows:
- Stop: A DUI investigation typically begins when a police officer stops you for a traffic or equipment violation of some sort. Try to keep your car maintained. Driving around with a broken headlights or taillights, for example, basically gives the police a reason to stop you at any time. When you see a police car behind you with its emergency lights and/or siren on, it is important to pull over as soon as you can do so safely. Any delay will be noted by the officer and considered evidence of impairment.
- Initial Conversation: When the officer walks up to your vehicle, particularly if it is late at night, he will usually be looking for any evidence that you have consumed alcohol or drugs. The officer will likely use a flashlight to look into your windows as he approaches. It probably goes without saying, but you shouldn't have any alcohol, alcohol containers, drugs, or drug paraphernalia in plain view. It is rare for police officers in the Tucson area to make audio or video recordings of these encounters, so you might want to make a recording yourself if you have access to a recording device. There may later be disputes about what you said and about the quality of your speech. Without a recording, it will be more difficult to challenge the officer's testimony regarding these issues. When the officer speaks with you, he will be looking at your eyes, evaluating your speech, and trying to detect any odor of alcohol or drugs. Thus, it is usually best to keep your conversation to a minimum. Answer any questions with short, direct sentences. It's is generally not a good idea to admit that you committed a traffic violation or that you have consumed alcohol or drugs. It is also not a good idea to make any false denials. Remember, you have the right to remain silent and you can politely tell the officer you want to invoke your right to remain silent. You should always have your driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance organized and easily accessible so you can quickly produce it when needed. If you have difficulty finding and producing these documents, the officer will note this and consider it evidence of impairment.
- Field Sobriety Tests: If the officer suspects you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he will probably ask you to submit to various field sobriety tests ("FSTs"). These include an eye test called the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus ("HGN") and other tests of your coordination and balance, like the Walk and Turn and the One-Leg Stand. You are not required to do these tests, but your refusal to do them can be considered as evidence. Generally, it is not a good idea to do these tests. I don't recall ever seeing anyone "pass" these tests, even in cases where it later turned out that they were under the legal limit. Even completely sober people can have difficulty with these tests, especially given the circumstances under which they are administered. People are usually nervous because they are being investigated, they are tired because it is late at night, and they are a bit disoriented when asked to do these tests on the side of the road with cars driving past them.
- Additional Questioning: If you have not already invoked your right to remain silent, the officer will ask you additional questions. These questions are usually taken off of a DUI worksheet that the officer fills out as part of his report. They include the obvious questions about when, where, and how much you have been drinking, but also include questions that are a bit more deceptive. One common question, for instance, asks you to rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10, with "1" being completely sober and "10" being falling down drunk. Arizona DUI laws prohibit driving while "impaired to the slightest degree", so if you rate yourself as anything other than a "1" on the scale, the state will consider this an admission of guilt. The officer will probably also ask you if you are taking any medications. You must be very careful about answering this question. The use of certain prescription medications, even without alcohol, can result in DUI charges. Of course, you have a right not to answer any of these questions and it is usually best to invoke this right.
- Breath or Blood Test: If the officer think he has probable cause to arrest you for DUI, a chemical test will be administered to determine your blood alcohol concentration ("BAC") and/or whether drugs are present in your blood. In the Tucson area, the type of chemical test used usually depends on the investigating agency. If you are dealing with the Pima County Sheriff's Department, for example, a blood sample is usually taken by a deputy who is a certified phlebotomist. The Tucson Police Department, on the other hand, will usually administer a breath test using a machine called the Intoxilizer 8000. You can refuse to take these tests, but this is generally not a good idea. A refusal will result in your driver's license being suspended for one full year, unless you successfully challenge the suspension later at an administrative hearing. Worse yet, at least in Tucson and throughout Pima County, officers will typically just call a judge to get a warrant (because taking your blood is technically a search) and then forcibly take your blood. The process of getting a warrant for your blood over the phone takes only a few minutes. The exception to all of this is the hand-held preliminary breath test ("PBT"), which police will usually administer before arresting you. You can, and usually should refuse to take this test. There is no penalty for your refusal to submit to a PBT. The test result is not admissible in court as evidence of your BAC, so the test is generally used only to give police additional cause to arrest you for DUI and/or conduct a real breath or blood test. The PBT can also be used by the police to justify the impoundment of your vehicle if the result is over a 0.150. This is another reason not to take it.
- Call a DUI Lawyer: You can ask to consult with an attorney at any time during a DUI investigation. The police should give you an opportunity to call a lawyer if you request one. Even if you can't contact a lawyer during the DUI investigation, you should consult with an experience Tucson DUI attorney as soon as possible if you are ultimately charged with DUI.
* This blog is published by Tucson DUI lawyer Nathan D. Leonardo. Nothing on this website is intended to create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided herein does not constitute legal advice, but is for general information purposes only. If you have a legal question, you can contact us online or call (520) 314-4125.