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The Pre-Arrest Stage of a DUI Case

The Pre-Arrest Stage of a DUI Case

As previously mentioned, the Pre-Arrest Stage of a DUI case can be divided into two (2) phases:

(1)  Vehicle in Motion, and

(2)  Initial Personal Contact with The Driver.

Vehicle In Motion

In Rhode Island, assuming that a driver has not committed an obvious moving violation, a police officer may stop a vehicle on the basis of reasonable suspicion that the driver is engaged in criminal activity.

The reasonable suspicion must be based upon specific and articulable facts and reasonable inferences drawn from those facts.  Whether the officer’s suspicions are reasonable enough to justify stopping a vehicle is based on the totality of the circumstances involved.  Ergo, while each case is different, the whole picture must lead the officer to a particularized suspicion that the driver is engaged in criminal activity.

Particularized suspicion has two (2) elements, both of which are necessary to justify the stop.  Those elements are as follows:

(1)  The officer’s particularized suspicion must be based on all of the circumstances, including any objective observations, information from other police officers and on the patterns of certain types of criminals.

(2)  Based on the aforementioned observations a trained officer must make logical deductions that lead him to conclude that the driver is engaged in wrongdoing.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has created a manual to assist police officers in the development of reasonable suspicion necessary to stop allegedly intoxicated drivers.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration created twenty (20) clues for officers to observe that may indicate that a driver has a blood alcohol concentration of .10 or higher.  Some examples of those clues include the following:

A wide turning radius,

Straddling the center line,

Weaving within a travel lane or between travel lanes,

Driving with the vehicle’s headlights off after dark,

Rapidly accelerating or decelerating,

Too slow a response to a traffic control signal,

Almost striking another vehicle or object,

Swerving or drifting,

Driving at varying speeds or at a slow speed,

Driving in the opposing lane of travel or on a one-way street in the     wrong direction,

Stopping for no apparent reason,

Failing to signal a turn or executing     a lane change without signaling, and

Signaling a lane change that’s inconsistent with the action taken.

Well-trained police officers write their arrest reports to account for these clues.  In almost every instance of a DUI charge where the officer has observed the driver operating the vehicle, an arrest report will include some reference to erratic or unsafe driving.  Therefore, the threshold evidence for stopping a vehicle is low.  Fair or unfair, Courts typically defer to the officer’s claimed observations of erratic or unsafe driving.

Initial Personal Contact Between Driver And Officer

Once an officer has made the decision to stop a vehicle, the evidence gathering continues.  Upon initial interaction with the driver, a trained police officer always looks for evidence of intoxication.  Specifically the officer makes observations about the driver’s appearance, demeanor, speech, attitude and/or inability to follow simple instructions.

If the officer detects the smell of alcohol emanating from the driver, he will quickly survey the cabin for cans or bottles or some other evidence of alcohol consumption.  Even if no such evidence is found, the officer will continue the investigation.

The next step for the officer is to engage the driver in conversation to observe speech pattern and general appearance.  Frequently, an officer will ask two questions simultaneously to observe the driver’s ability to respond to multi-tasking.

This is referred to as a “divided attention” tasking.  For example, the officer may ask the driver to produce a license while at the same time asking the driver the time of day.  Failure to answer the question and produce the license at the same time is a clue that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggests is an indication of intoxication.

Other clues the officer looks for may include the odor of alcohol, blood shot and watery eyes, speech evidencing a thick tongue or mush mouth and fumbling with or dropping an object such as a driver’s license.

Trained police officers write their arrest reports to account for some or all of these clues in almost every instance where there has been interaction with the driver.