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Columbia DUI Stops

Officers will look for drivers who are showing signs of impairment such as, reckless driving, weaving, driving too slow, braking erratically, and drifting over lanes. Generally, an officer will stop your vehicle for a moving violation or will appear at the scene of an accident that you were involved in. Then the officer will begin a line of questioning in order to determine if an individual was impaired.
If you have been pulled over for a DUI stop and subsequently arrested, contact a Columbia DUI lawyer to begin building a defense.

Initial Investigation

Usually, the officer will ask questions geared toward whether the driver consumed any alcohol prior to operating their vehicle. Such questions include:

  • Do you know why I pulled you over?
  • Where are you coming from? Where are you going?
  • Have you had anything to drink?

Additionally, the officer will request that the driver retrieve certain items from their vehicle such as their license and registration in order to determine whether the individual is able to concentrate and multitask.T he officer, through observation, will determine if you have any signs of impairment – such as bloodshot and watery eyes, slurred speech, and an odor of alcohol. If any clues of impairment are present, the officer will request that you step out of the car and perform field sobriety tests.

Field Sobriety Tests

An officer will want the driver to perform field sobriety tests to determine whether they are impaired. The common field sobriety tests include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, the Walk and Turn Test, and the One-Leg Stand Test.

The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test refers to the involuntary jerking of an individual’s eye when they naturally look to the side. When an individual is impaired, this jerking movement is exaggerated. The officer will have an individual follow an object with only their eyes, usually a penlight, and will look for impairment in each of the eyes – including the inability to follow the object smoothly, jerking at maximum deviation, and jerking within 40 degrees of center.

The Walk and Turn test is a divided attention test. The individual will be required to take 9 steps (heel to toe; along a straight line), turn on one foot, and then walk back in the same manner.
Finally, the One-Leg Stand Test requires an individual to stand with one foot approximately 6 inches above the ground and count for 30 seconds.

Administration of Field Sobriety Tests

In Maryland, officers are not required to adhere to the federal standard for field sobriety tests procedures. However, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test should be conducted in accordance with the established protocols due to its scientific nature. Additionally, officers must be qualified as an expert or skilled witness for the purpose of conducting the tests and offering their opinions of the results. Furthermore, officers should always ask prior to the individual performing the tests whether or not they have a condition that may prevent them from performing the tests (head injury, eye disease, certain medication). Beyond that, individuals do have the right to refuse to perform field sobriety tests in Columbia at DUI stops, but once a person is under arrest and in police custody they must comply.

The weight of the field sobriety tests at a DUI trial will depend on the judge. Some judges believe that the tests are extremely reliable, and will hold the failing results against the individual. Other judges may believe that there are factors that can influence the results of the tests and would not consider the tests to be an accurate method to determine if someone is impaired. For example, an individual may have been on their feet all day or sick, which could result in them having bad hand/eye coordination if they were sober.

Vehicle Search

Officers are able to search a person’s entire car without a warrant as long as the officers have probable cause that evidence of criminal activity will be found. Additionally, officers are able to question a person about topics unrelated to their DUI as long as the questioning does not prolong the period that they are stopped.

For example, if at any point during the initial encounter at the DUI stop the driver makes a furtive movement, the officer may believe that the individual is trying to get rid of an illegal substance. In this instance, the officer will want to search their vehicle.

Drivers are not required to consent to a search. If an officer requests to search the car, the driver should always refuse. The officer may search the car regardless, but the driver’s initial refusal may help them in the long run in terms of getting any evidence found during the search suppressed at a later hearing.

Rights at a DUI Stop

At a DUI stop, drivers are not required to provide the officer with any information besides their license, proof of insurance, and registration. Additionally, drivers are not required to perform any field sobriety tests or submit to a breath test. The lack of information and results from the stop and potentially subsequent arrest will make the DUI case difficult to prove in court.

If a driver is arrested, once they are under arrest and in police custody, the officers must read the driver their Miranda Rights. At that point in time, the driver has the right to speak to an attorney and remain silent. Miranda warnings only pertain to individuals who are in custody and are going to be questioned about a crime. In the instance of a DUI stop, officers will have generally gathered most of the evidence needed, through impairment clues, before the individual is placed into police custody. As such, Miranda warnings may not be required, and an officer can request that an individual perform field sobriety tests and submit to a breath test on the scene without having to read the Miranda warnings because the individual is not yet in custody.

Mistakes to Avoid

One of the biggest mistakes to avoid in a DUI stop is not speaking with an attorney prior to making the decision as to whether or not to take the breathalyzer test. Refusing to take the test may come with severe administrative penalties, while the results of the test may be used against the defendant in court.

Another mistake individuals make is not understanding that they have the right to refuse to perform field sobriety tests, as well as the right to remain silent. The results of any tests or incriminating statements may be used against the individual in court.

You always have the right to contact a lawyer before submitting to any tests or consenting to a search of your vehicle. When the officers are conducting their initial questioning once a driver has been pulled over, you have the right to remain silent, however the police officers are not required to put you on notice of such. As a result, any of your answers may be used against you in court.