Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

While the acronym, “DUI,” typically brings to mind the dangerous choice people make to drink alcohol and then drive a vehicle. For police officers, however, a typical traffic stop can become a challenge when it comes to distinguishing the difference between a driver under the influence of alcohol, and that of one who has been using drugs before driving. Aiken Standard reports that some law enforcement agencies are able to have an expert in determining the substance that a suspect has consumed, and that these officers can be called into a traffic stop when other officers are unsure of the substance. Read more here: Driving under the influence: Not limited to alcohol

Saturation Patrols, Roving Patrols and Sobriety Checkpoints

Traffic Stop - Sobriety TestA sometimes controversial subject is sobriety checkpoints. While all of us know it is dangerous to drink and drive, that knowledge alone does not keep people from driving while inebriated. For that reason, law enforcement has enacted saturation patrols, roving patrols, and sobriety checkpoints. But, what are the differences among these three activities? Many people ask that question, as well as a few others regarding the constitutionality of these endeavors.

The first thing to remember is that the purpose of saturation patrols, roving patrols, and sobriety checkpoints is to keep the streets safer for all drivers. Alcohol-related crashes cost our society over $132 billion each year. Therefore, keeping drunk drivers off the road is a major priority for our communities and law enforcement departments. Most people are probably familiar with sobriety checkpoints, so let’s discuss them first.

Sobriety checkpoints are highly visible areas where law enforcement officers stop random drivers to make sure no one is driving under the influence (DUI). Usually, officers stop every other driver or some other regular interval of drivers. In this way, there should be no discrimination or profiling, because drivers are chosen randomly in an orderly fashion. Breath tests are only conducted if an officer has reason to believe the driver has been drinking. The goal is not to arrest people, but to stop DUIs. Only one arrest is made per 88 drivers over the legal limit, on average.

The main difference among saturation patrols, roving patrols, and sobriety checkpoints is that sobriety checkpoints happen in a single, concentrated area while saturation and roving patrols cover a larger territory. Saturation patrols are where a concentrated number of law enforcement officers observe moving violations in an effort to catch impaired drivers. Examples of moving violations are: speeding, aggressive driving, and reckless driving. Roving patrols are similar to saturation patrols, but there may be fewer officers involved.

The Supreme Court has ruled the sobriety checkpoints as constitutional due to the compelling state interest in saving lives. The CDC has found that the checkpoints reduce alcohol-related crashes and deaths by up to 24 percent. Checkpoints also save state and local governments up to $23 for every single dollar invested. This shows that these saturation patrols, roving patrols, and sobriety checkpoints not only save lives, but they save money. The states that currently prohibit sobriety checkpoints are: Texas, Idaho, Washington, Iowa, Michigan, Wyoming, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Oregon, and Wisconsin.

Field Sobriety Testing and Traffic Stops

DUI traffic stopWhen a driver is pulled over by an officer due to a suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI), the officer may request that the driver participate in field sobriety testing. This testing is used to validate or invalidate an officer’s suspicion of DUI and is often recorded by the camera mounted in the officer’s vehicle. Field sobriety testing and traffic stops are sometimes a controversial topic because drivers don’t always understand when it is okay for an officer to perform field sobriety testing and when it is not. In general, officers may only perform the testing during a traffic stop if there is at least a suspicion of DUI. Suspicion is more than just a hunch; the officer must have witnessed erratic driving behaviors, smelled alcohol, or seen other signs that the driver seems to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

During most traffic stops, it would not make sense to perform field sobriety testing. In fact, several courts have upheld that insisting upon field sobriety testing as routine during traffic stops violates the Fourth Amendment. For this reason, there must be a reasonable suspicion of DUI in order for officers to perform field sobriety testing. Another thing to consider when pondering field sobriety testing and traffic stops is that the testing prolongs traffic stops. These days, many police departments are struggling with funding and being able to afford to keep officers on the streets. Making field sobriety testing a routing aspect of traffic stops would only result in more unsolved crimes and unprotected citizens.

While field sobriety testing and traffic stops are not inherently connected, an officer that has a reasonable suspicion of DUI has the right to arrest anyone who refuses the tests. Field sobriety testing most often includes three tests: the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, the walk and turn test, and the one leg stand test. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test checks for jerking of the eye and the ability of the eyes to smoothly follow a moving object. The walk and turn test checks for the ability to perform activities that are both mental and physical, something impaired people have a problem doing. The one leg stand tests balance.

Many times, officers will not be able to test for blood alcohol levels during the traffic stop. Those tests may not be administered until the driver has been arrested and taken to the police department. However, field sobriety testing and traffic stops make a wonderful combination because the testing is accurate about ninety percent of the time without making use of breathalyzers or chemical tests. The testing is cheap to administer and provides trial evidence, if needed. While every traffic stop does not warrant field sobriety testing, the ones that do are well worth the effort.

What Are Saturation Patrols?

In general, a saturation patrol is a police tactic where a large number of officers are on patrol in a small area. Saturation patrols can be utilized for location-specific patrols.

With regard to motor vehicles, a saturation patrol is a procedure in which a number of law enforcement officers are dedicated to a limited geographic area for the purpose of detecting and apprehending drunk drivers. Officers working in a saturation patrol target impaired drivers by observing moving violations such as speeding and aggressive and/or reckless driving. Saturation patrols are legal in all 50 states. Unlike sobriety checkpoints, saturation patrols do not need to be announced ahead of time in all jurisdictions, although many jurisdictions announce the patrols since they are scheduled in conjunction with a sobriety checkpoint.

What Are Saturation Patrols?According to a study published in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, when measuring DUI arrests per hour, saturation patrols are seen as some of the most effective methods for apprehending drivers. They can be more effective than sobriety checkpoints since intoxicated drivers will often avoid the preannounced location of a sobriety checkpoint.

If an officer stops you during a saturation patrol, you should expect the same process if you were stopped by an officer at any time. If the officer suspects you are impaired, you will be asked to perform a standard field sobriety test and/or breathalyzer test.

There are not different penalties for being arrested and/or convicted of a DUI / DWI during the course of a saturation patrol. You can face fines, jail time, community service, loss of driving privileges and the installation of an ignition interlock, which has some similarities to a breathalyzer for your car.

For more information on saturation patrols in your area, contact your local police department.

The Ins And Outs of Field Sobriety Tests

Just about everyone is familiar with basics of field sobriety testing.  Did you know the sometimes controversial tests are actually standardized and graded?  Failing the tests can be grounds for a DUI arrest in some jurisdictions.

The Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) is a battery of three tests administered and evaluated in a standardized manner to obtain accurate indicators of impairment and establish probable cause for arrest. These tests were developed as a result of research sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and conducted by the Southern California Research Institute.

A training program was developed to aid law enforcement officers to become more skillful at detecting DUI offenders, describing the behavior of the drivers, and presenting effective testimony in court. Formal administration and accreditation of the program is provided through the International Association of Chiefs of Police.  In some states only the three tests of the SFST are allowed to be admitted to evidence in a DUI / DWI trial.

The three tests of the SFST are:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN)
  • Walk-and-Turn (WAT)
  • One-Leg Stand (OLS)

These tests are considered divided attention tests and test a driver’s ability to perform mental and physical multitasking that is required to operate a motor vehicle. These tests are administered and evaluated according to measured responses of the driver.

HGN Test

Man Taking Sobriety TestHorizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) is an involuntary jerking of the eye that occurs naturally as the eyes gaze from side to side. When sober HGN occurs when the eyes are rotated at high peripheral angles. However, when a person is impaired by alcohol, HGN is exaggerated. An alcohol-impaired person might also have difficulty smoothly tracking a moving object. In the HGN test, the officer observes the eyes of a person as he or she follows a slowly moving object such as a pen, horizontally with his or her eyes. The officer looks for three signs of impairment in each eye:

  1.  if the eye cannot follow a moving object smoothly,
  2. if jerking is distinct when the eye is at maximum deviation, and
  3. if the angle of onset of jerking is within 45 degrees of center.

If, between the two eyes, four or more clues appear, the suspect likely has a BAC of 0.08 or greater. NHTSA research has found this test allows proper classification of approximately 88 percent of testers.

Walk and Turn

The Walk-and-Turn test and One-Leg Stand test require a person to listen and follow instructions while performing simple physical movements. Intoxicated people have difficulty with tasks requiring their attention to be divided between mental and physical exercises.

In the Walk-and-Turn test, the tester is directed to take nine steps, heel-to-toe, along a straight line. After taking the steps, the suspect must turn on one foot and return in the same manner in the opposite direction. The officer then looks for the below eight signs of intoxication.

  1. Cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions
  2. Begins before the instructions are finished
  3. Stops while walking to regain balance
  4. Does not touch heel-to-toe
  5. Steps off the line
  6. Uses arms to balance
  7. Makes an improper turn
  8. Takes an incorrect number of steps

NHTSA research shows 79 percent of people who exhibit two or more indicators during the test will have a BAC of 0.08 or greater.

One Leg Stand

In the One-Leg Stand test, the suspect is instructed to stand with one foot about six inches off the ground and count aloud by thousands until told to put the foot down. The officer times the subject for 30 seconds. The officer is looking for the below four signs of impairment:

  1. swaying while balancing
  2. using arms to balance
  3. hopping to maintain balance
  4. putting the foot down

NHTSA research shows 83 percent of people who exhibit two or more signs during the test will have a BAC of 0.08 of greater.

Combined Measures

When the component tests of the SFST battery are combined, officers are accurate in an astonishing 91 percent of cases!

For more information about field sobriety tests, contact an attorney in your state.

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