Interviewer: Let’s go through the process, from the moment someone is stopped for a DUI in Washington D.C. and the police come up to the car.
What is the normal sequence of events that unfold in that situation?
Officers Investigate In Stages
Michael: Officers are trained to investigate a DUI, and they investigate it in stages.When an officer stops a vehicle, for whatever perceived reason, the officer is always thinking, possibly, that the driver might be under the influence, depending on what type of traffic violation or what type of car movement the officer actually observes.
Once the officer even comes up to your window and knocks on your window, in the back of the officer’s mind, the officer is always thinking, “Maybe this person might be under the influence.” When you roll the window down, immediately, the officer is making observations ‑‑ observations of you, observations of the vehicle.
The Officers are Looking for a Certain Information
They’re looking to see if there are any open containers of alcohol in the vehicle. They’re looking at you, as the driver, to see how you appear. What do your eyes look like? Are they bloodshot? Are they watery? How does your face appear? How do you sound when you answer questions? What does your speech sound like? The biggest thing they look for is an odor of an alcoholic beverage.
If you answer a question, and they think they detect some type of odor either on your breath when you’re speaking or just an odor that’s just somehow in the car, they’re immediately going to be suspicious that you’re under the influence. They will probably extend the stop and continue the investigation, and try to get even more information from you.
A lot of times, this is where driver’s make a mistake, and it’s certainly not the driver’s fault. You have to keep in mind, when you’re stopped by a police officer, it’s scary. It’s nerve racking. Nobody approaches the scenario with the thought that, “Oh, I want to try to keep something with the police.” Most people, they’re natural tendency is to think, “I’m just going to be honest. I’m going to answer all the questions the officer asks.”
The officer will typically ask, “Have you had anything to drink tonight?” Most driver’s usually respond. You will say, “Yes. I had one or two drinks earlier. One or two beers earlier, or I had a couple drinks.” They think it benefits them to be honest with the officer.
The Difficult Truth of Any DUI Traffic Stop
The problem is it does not benefit them to be honest with the officer. The officer will just continue the investigation, will continue to gather evidence. When you are arrested and charged, that statement that you made will be used against you later on, when the case comes back to court.
Really, when it gets to a point where the officer asks you to step out of the vehicle to perform a Field Sobriety Test, basically, just gives them even more evidence that they will use against you.