For many, being pulled over by the police is a stressful and confusing experience. Stressful because, in the moment, the officer wields almost unlimited power. Even if they overstep their authority, a stopped motorist usually has no recourse until after the fact. The experience can be confusing because, as a person presumably inexperienced with police interactions, the typical driver is unfamiliar with the process of a traffic stop and steps that can be taken to avoid arousing suspicion. If you have ever wondered what to do if you are pulled over, this post is for you. This post is an effort to familiarize the reader with the investigatory techniques law enforcement employ when conducting a traffic stop (and potentially an initial DUII investigation), with the hope that some familiarity will allow the reader to better navigate the experience.
When an officer initially stops a motorist, it is typically because they have witnessed a traffic infraction or received a dispatch that a concerned citizen has reported an infraction. When observing a vehicle in motion, the police are looking for things like weaving, drifting, straddling a lane line, swerving, widely varying speeds, slow response to traffic signals, or making wide turns. An officer will take into account all of these factors in assessing whether a driver is DUII (Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants — that is, driving drunk or while on drugs) if they eventually decide stop them. In addition, if officers observe an equipment violation like a broken headlight or an administrative problem like an expired registration sticker, they may use it as a pretext to stop the vehicle and further investigate.
If you are stopped, the most important initial step you can take is to maintain your composure and remain polite and courteous with the police officer. Roll both your front driver and passenger side windows down as you are stopping — the officer may approach your vehicle from either side. Do not rustle through your car to have your license, proof of insurance, and registration available, as the officer could interpret this as something suspicious, or worse, dangerous. Have the required documents in a place where they are easily accessible. As the officer approaches your vehicle, keep your hands on the steering wheel and remain calm.
The typical initial clues of intoxication that an officer will look for upon making personal contact with a stopped driver are slurred speech, bloodshot and watery eyes, and an odor of alcohol. Upon asking you for your license, proof of insurance, and registration, the officer is trained to closely observe the dexterity or lack thereof with which your retrieve and hand over these documents. If a motorist “fumbles” with them, it will be counted as a sign of intoxication.
Remember, throughout this entire interaction, the officer is constantly observing you, and taking mental note of everything they have been trained to register as an indication of intoxication. It is essential you remain calm, courteous, and composed. If the officer has a reasonable suspicion that you are driving under the influence, they will likely ask you to exit the vehicle and perform field sobriety tests. Do not lean on the vehicle, or pull yourself out by the door as you exit.
If you consent to taking field sobriety tests, the officer will likely first administer a test called the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. They will wave a pen before your eyes and look for an involuntary jerking of the eyes as you follow the pen. Next, the officer will probably perform two balancing tests, the Walk and Turn, and the One Leg Stand. These tests are exactly what they sound like, and require a stopped driver to divide their attention in a manner that is more difficult for an inebriated person. Throughout all these tests, take great care to follow the officer’s instructions scrupulously, as failure to do so will be counted as a clue of intoxication.
After you decline or complete the field sobriety tests, the officer will decide whether they believe that they have probable cause to arrest you for DUII. This means they need to decide whether they believe, taking into account all their observations, whether it is more likely than not that you are DUII. If a decision is made to arrest you, remain calm and physically cooperative with the officers.
Once you have reached the police station, you may request to call a loved one or an attorney. If you ask to speak with an attorney, the police must afford you a reasonable opportunity to do so. After a general booking process and a fifteen minute observation period, the officer will ask if you are willing to take a breathalyzer test. If you consent, and the test reveals a blood-alcohol content of 0.08% or greater, you will likely face, in addition to any criminal charge, an administrative suspension of your license. If you decline a breathalyzer, that suspension will be of a greater length. "Refusal To Take a Test for Intoxicants" is also a traffic violation that carries with it a presumptive fine.
Whether you need an attorney for an Oregon criminal charge is ultimately your decision. But Ross Denison Law generally advises that, if you are facing a DUII charge, you seriously consider hiring an experienced DUII defense attorney because of the penalties involved. Learn more here about Oregon DUII charges. If you have been charged with DUII, contact Ross Denison 24/7 to request a free consultation. Ross will be honest about what you are likely facing and how he can help.