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How do police assess a driver’s state during a DUI traffic stop?

On Behalf of | Jan 19, 2023 | Criminal Defense

When a driver is exhibiting signs of potential intoxication, police may stop that individual to determine if he or she is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Swerving, difficulty maintaining the lane, driving at erratic speeds and more are all signs of possible intoxication, and they are valid grounds for a DUI traffic stop. After pulling a driver over, police may initiate a process in order to determine if it is necessary to place that individual under arrest.

One way that North Carolina law enforcement assesses a driver’s state during a traffic stop is through the administration of certain field sobriety tests. The intent of these tests is to allow police to evaluate a driver’s physical abilities and cognitive responses. If a driver fails a field sobriety test, police may then ask the driver to submit to a chemical test in order to determine his or her blood alcohol content.

Types of field sobriety tests

Field sobriety tests are a series of tests that safely determine if a driver could be in a state of intoxication. They test a driver’s coordination, balance and other factors possibly affected after the consumption of drugs or alcohol. Common types of field sobriety tests include:

  • Walk-and-Turn test — A driver will walk heel-to-toe in a straight line for nine steps, then turn and go back to the starting point. This tests balance and ability to follow directions.
  • Horizonal Gaze Nystagmus test — A driver will follow an object held by a police officer, such as a pen, with his or her eyes. An involuntary jerking of the eyeballs is an indication of intoxication.
  • One-Leg Stand test — A driver will balance on one leg and count from 1,001 until the officer says to stop. If a driver loses balance, uses his or her arms to stay upright or has difficulty counting, it may indicate intoxication.

These are standardized tests, which means that law enforcement should administer them in certain ways. Improper administration of field sobriety tests could be grounds to challenge the evidence against you. An evaluation of all aspects of your case, including your interactions with law enforcement, could help you understand the defense options available to you. Regardless of the details of your individual situation, you have the right to fight for your future interests at every step.