DUI Arrests – the Law

Where You Need a Lawyer:

(This may not be the same place you live)

At No Cost! 

 What Constitutes a DUI Arrest?

A DUI arrest usually occurs after the officer has stopped the driver for a traffic violation, and after the stop, the officer has probable cause to believe that the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or is otherwise too impaired to drive a motor vehicle safely.

After the stop has been made and the officer has conducted a field sobriety test, the first stage of the criminal process in a DUI case begins once the officer has placed the driver under arrest.

When Can an Officer Make a DUI Arrest?

During a traffic stop, a police officer may arrest a driver for DUI in the following circumstances:

  • Police Officer Has Probable Cause: If the police officer personally sees or believes that the driver has committed a crime, the officer may lawfully arrest that person. The police officer can arrest a driver based on probable cause that they have been driving under the influence if the driver smells like alcohol or the officer notices empty beer bottles in the vehicle.
  • Police Officer Made a Lawful Traffic Stop: The officer had probable cause to believe that the driver was under the influence. The officer must show that they did not stop the vehicle randomly or for no reason. There must be proof that the driver did something in violation of a law, which led to the traffic stop.
  • Police Officer Has an Arrest Warrant: The officer can place the driver under arrest after the traffic stop if the officer has a valid arrest warrant issued by a judge or magistrate.

What Happens After the Officer Makes a DUI Arrest?

Four phases occur after the officer has placed the driver under arrest:

  • Chemical Tests: After the officer has placed the driver under arrest for a DUI, the officer takes the driver either to the hospital, police station, or jail for mandatory chemical blood or breath test to measure the blood alcohol level of the driver. Drivers may be subjected to either a blood test or a breath test as part of a chemical test. The results of breath tests are available immediately, while blood tests must be sent to a laboratory for analysis.
  • License Suspension: The officer will then notify the driver that their license will be suspended in 30 days, confiscate the license, and issue the driver a valid temporary license until the suspension goes into effect.
  • Booking and Release: After all the DUI tests have been completed or refused, the officer will book the driver into the county jail. A driver may be released on bail or immediately after providing a written promise that they will appear in court on the assigned date, depending on his criminal history and current DUI case. The driver is usually held in custody for several hours before being released.
  • Prosecution: The arresting officer then completes the police report investigation and submits the report to the prosecution agency. When the prosecution reviews the case, it will either charge the driver for DUI or decline to charge the driver for DUI because there aren’t enough factors to form a formal charge.

What Are Field Sobriety Tests? What Are Some Examples of Field Sobriety Tests?

Drunk driving refers to operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. More specifically, the term refers to driving while the blood alcohol content (or “BAC“) meets or exceeds the state-specified limit. Most states consider a driver legally drunk when their BAC is between 0.08% and 0.10%.

Several tests are designed to measure a person’s sobriety to determine if they are legally drunk. To determine whether alcohol has impaired a driver’s ability to drive, a police officer will most likely ask them to perform several of these field sobriety tests.

Some of the most common field sobriety tests are:

  • Alcohol/Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus: The officer holds either a pen or flashlight approximately twelve inches from the driver’s face. They will ask the driver to watch the pen or flashlight as they move it from side to side. The officer looks for involuntary eyeball jerking when the pen is as far to the side as possible. According to the theory, the driver’s eyeball will involuntarily jerk more frequently with a higher BAC;
  • Standing On One foot While Counting: The driver is asked to stand on one foot with their hands at their side and the other foot extended. The officer may also ask the driver to count to a specific number simultaneously;
  • Walking An Imaginary Line: The driver is directed to walk a straight line while touching one foot’s heel to the other’s toe. A separate instruction may be given simultaneously, such as to walk ten steps forward, turn, and then walk nine steps back. All of this must be completed heel-to-toe;
  • Finger to Nose: With their eyes closed and arms extended, the driver is instructed to touch their nose with an index finger;
  • Alternate Clapping: The officer instructs the driver to clap the palms of their hands together, then the backs of their hands together, while simultaneously counting to a specific number;
  • Recite the Alphabet: The officer asks the driver to recite the alphabet. They may ask for the alphabet either in its entirety or a portion of it;
  • Count Backwards: The officer will ask the driver to count backward from a specified number; and
  • Fingers to Thumb: The driver is asked to touch a specified finger to their thumb.

Do I Have To Submit to a Field Sobriety Test?

No, you are not legally required to take a field sobriety test. Most field sobriety tests are voluntary. After the officer has pulled over the driver and has asked them to submit to a field sobriety test, the driver is allowed the right to refuse the test. The police may, however, arrest the driver for refusing to submit to field testing. Furthermore, officers do not generally inform drivers of their right to refuse a field sobriety test.

The police officer may arrest the driver if they believe the driver is under the influence and, therefore, unfit to drive. Many states require the driver to submit to a chemical test after the arrest if they have refused a field test. A driver still has access to the field sobriety test results after the arrest, even if the officer says the driver failed the test. Therefore, they can challenge the validity of the tests in court.

Before being arrested, a driver may refuse any chemical or field sobriety test. The driver must submit to at least one type of chemical test after being arrested and taken to the police station. A driver’s license will be suspended if they refuse to submit a chemical test after arresting them.

A field sobriety test is not mandatory, but refusing to take one can lead to suspicion. A chemical test is generally more difficult to contest than a field sobriety test.

Are Field Sobriety Tests Reliable? Can Their Results Be Challenged?

Field sobriety tests are generally considered discriminatory against people with physical or mental impairments before discussing whether they are reliable. An entirely sober person with a condition affecting their involuntary muscle movement might fail a field sobriety test.

Other physical conditions that may affect a person’s ability to perform such tests include, but are not limited to:

  • Poor equilibrium;
  • Difficulty walking;
  • Difficulty processing directions quickly; and
  • An inability to perform specific actions.

Should I Contact a Lawyer Regarding a DUI Arrest?

As there are many aspects to DUI arrests that may be contended in court, it is a very wise idea to contact a DUI/DWI lawyer. In court, anything from improper arrest procedures to the mistreatment of the suspect can be challenged, and a lawyer may be able to assist you.

Law Library Disclaimer


16 people have successfully posted their cases

Find a Lawyer