We’ve all seen the public service announcements and heard the warnings about drunk driving. And maybe some of us know someone who’s gotten a DUI conviction. For every tale of being pulled over by the police, there are seemingly just as many pieces of amateur advice about what you should do if you find yourself looking at red and blue flashing lights in the rearview mirror. Every drunk driving case begins with an arrest by a police officer, which follows a traffic stop and one or more sobriety tests. FindLaw’s DUI Arrests section can give you the facts about how a traffic stop turns into an arrest and the tests in between.
This section covers a range of topics pertaining to getting pulled over, tested for impairment, and other procedures leading to a DUI arrest. Articles cover such topics as the legality of DUI checkpoints, what to expect when stopped by a police officer, how to assert your Fourth Amendment rights during a traffic stop, how field sobriety tests typically are conducted, FAQs about blood-alcohol concentration tests, and more. Prepare yourself in case you ever get pulled over for a DUI.
The first step in any DUI arrest is a traffic stop. This can occur at a standard DUI checkpoint, or if police officers notice bad driving or even a missing taillight. While some states have decided not to employ DUI checkpoints, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a state’s interest in eradicating drunk driving outweighs a driver’s privacy interest. As long as police apply the same criteria for stopping each driver, DUI checkpoints are legal and only 12 states have chosen not to use them.
Whether you are stopped at a checkpoint or pulled over elsewhere, there are some Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. But once an officer suspects someone of driving while intoxicated, refusal to cooperate with his or her investigation could mean an automatic suspension of your license.
The next, and normally definitive, steps to a DUI arrest are the ensuing sobriety tests. Once an officer suspects a driver is intoxicated, he or she will administer a variety of tests to determine whether, and by how much, the driver is under the influence. The tests are generally split between field sobriety tests and chemical tests.
Field sobriety tests can be anything from counting numbers and reciting the alphabet to balance and walking challenges. These are usually employed first, to see if there's a need to administer a chemical test. Chemical tests, whether administered in the field or at a police station or hospital, use breath, blood, or urine samples to determine the specific presence and prevalence of intoxicant in the driver. State laws can vary, but as a general rule, the refusal to submit to chemical testing results in an automatic driver’s license suspension.
Hiring a DUI Attorney
Any criminal charge is a serious matter, and drunk driving charges can be especially tricky. Between implied consent, chemical testing, and a possible trial, consulting with an experienced DUI lawyer can help you understand the severity of the charges and penalties and protect your rights as a criminal defendant.
Learn more about drunk driving on our DUI/DWI/OWI legal answers page.