When you are arrested for a New York DWI, chances are very good that the officer who arrested you received his training at the police academy, and that that training involved classroom study of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) manual in DWI detection and standardized field sobriety testing (SFST).
Before a police officer can stop your vehicle on suspicion of a DWI, he must have “reasonable suspicion” to believe that you are operating the vehicle while intoxicated. In New York, driving while intoxicated is established if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or above. Generally, reasonable suspicion can be based upon a moving violation, equipment violation, expired registration, unusual driving, or alcohol/drugs in your car.
There are numerous examples of either moving violations or erratic driving that are likely to get a motorist pulled over on suspicion of DWI. Weaving between lanes, or even moving back and forth within the lane is one example. Straddling the lane line, or turning with a wide radius are others. Stopping abruptly or at an inappropriate location, such as well before the red light (or just after the light) are other red flags for the officer.
Driving without headlights at night or with broken tail lights are likely to get an officer’s attention quickly, as are inappropriate behaviors such as throwing objects out of the vehicle, gesturing erratically, slouching in your seat or having your face close to the windshield.
Once you observe the flashing lights from the police cruiser and are required to pull over, be aware that everything you do is being scrutinized along a checklist. The officer is noting how you stopped the vehicle: was it jerky, abrupt, too far from the curb, striking the curb, or in some other manner abnormal? When the officer approaches the vehicle, he or she will be observing how you open the door or open the window, and then will ask for the license and registration. Special attention is paid to how you obtain the documents–are your fumbling with your wallet or having difficulty getting papers from the glove compartment? When the officer asks questions, he or she is noting whether you repeat the questions or respond in a slurred or other unclear fashion. Not surprisingly, the officer will be trying to detect if you have an odor of alcohol emanating from your body or on your breath.
Frequently, you are then asked to step out of the vehicle, and once again, you are on display. Are you swaying, staggering or having difficulty with your balance? Did you use the door or other part of the vehicle to stabilize yourself or maintain your balance? If the officer suspects based on his observations to that point that you are intoxicated, it is at this time that you will be asked to take what are known as standardized field sobriety tests, which generally speaking, are the walk and turn, HGN (Horizontal gaze nystagmus), and the one leg stand. We will provide an analysis of these three tests in separate post, but in summary, the walk and turn is a test in which you are asked to walk nine steps heel to toe along a designated straight line, turn on the same line, and then walk 9 steps back heel to toe along that same line, without losing your balance and remaining heel to toe. HGN is a test in which the officer holds either a stimulus (a pen, for example) 12-15 inches in front of the person’s nose, and moves the stimulus left and right, checking for involuntary jerking of the eyes, which is supposed to connote intoxication. Lastly, there is the one leg stand, in which the person is asked to hold one leg out 6 inches off the ground, and stand on one leg for thirty seconds without losing their balance, and without being able to use their arms for balance.
If you fail one or more of the field sobriety tests, it is likely that you will be asked to take a preliminary breath screening test, (which can show intoxication but is not admissible in Court) and ultimately, a chemical test of your breath, blood or urine, but the latter test will be conducted at the precinct. We will also discuss the chemical test in a separate post.
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