Stephen G. Cobb - Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer

How a Police Officer Determines Whether You Are Intoxicated

Being arrested and charged with a DUI is a serious matter, and in Florida, is prosecuted heavily.  And, with a conviction, you not only face potential jail time, but also a permanent criminal record as well as other life altering consequences.  Accordingly, in the State of Florida, it is against the law to drive:

  1. Under the influence of alcohol or drugs if either impairs your “normal faculties” or
  2. With a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher.

Most of the time, when an Okaloosa County police officer stops your vehicle, he or she has no idea what you had been doing earlier in the evening. However, you may hear those scary words anyway: “Please step out of the vehicle.”  When this happens to you, you may wonder what gave the police officer reason to believe you were intoxicated.

Grounds for a Traffic Stop

DUI arrests in Destin, Florida most commonly begin with either:

  • A traffic violation;
  • Reckless or careless driving; or
  • An accident.

If you violate a traffic law, such as by speeding or running a red light, a police officer can stop your car and issue you a ticket. In addition, if you are driving recklessly or carelessly, including swerving, veering into other lanes, driving very slow, or driving the wrong way, the officer may suspect something is wrong and activate his siren. Finally, if you caused an accident by breaking a traffic law or being careless, an officer will arrive at the scene.

The nature of your driving may create suspicion that you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This may be further confirmed when the officer approaches your car and sees open liquor bottles on the floor boards or a beer can in the cup holder; smells alcohol on your breath when you speak with him or her; or notices that your speech is slurred and your eyes are heavy-lidded. At this point, the officer will have reasonable suspicion to believe you may have driven under the influence. Reasonable suspicion is a fairly low threshold. If the officer has evidence that would lead a reasonable person to infer you had been driving while intoxicated, he or she can stop you. A stop is not the same as an arrest.

Sobriety Tests

When you are asked to get out of the car, the officer will then try to confirm his or her suspicions by performing some field sobriety tests.

The horizontal gaze nystagmus test estimates your reaction time by having your eyes follow a moving pen (without rotating your neck). Alcohol slows reaction time and will make this task difficult.

The heel-to-toe test has you simply walk heel-to-toe in a straight line, then turn around and repeat back towards the officer. This tests your balance and ability to listen to directions.

Another test has you stand on one leg without falling, wobbling, or putting your foot back down to see if alcohol has affected your balance.

The officer may also have you touch your nose with your index finger while your eyes are closed or recite the alphabet backwards.

To confirm the presence of alcohol, the officer may also administer a breathalyzer test, which will give a reading from 0.00 to 1.00 to determine your BAC. A BAC of 0.08 is prima facie evidence of DUI. A blood or urine sample can also confirm the presence of alcohol in your system.

When the officer has enough evidence for probable cause, he or she can arrest you for DUI.

Fight DUI Accusations with a Trusted Destin Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you were unfairly arrested for DUI, aggressive Destin DUI Defense Lawyer Stephen G. Cobb has twenty five years of experience with assisting clients in Destin, Fort Walton Beach, and Okaloosa County who have been accused of driving under the influence. In many cases, Stephen G. Cobb can argue for reduced penalties, probation or diversion, or even outright dismissal or acquittal! To schedule a free consultation, call the Destin criminal defense lawyers at the Cobb Criminal Defense Law Firm now at (850) 423-0035.

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References: FL criminal jury instructions for DUI, Wikipedia page on field sobriety tests

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