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Recently we introduced the "DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing” guidelines for police officers, when we covered the first phase (“vehicle in motion”) of the three-phase process that police use when making the determination of whether to arrest a driver on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. This post addresses the second phase, “personal contact.”

The purpose of the personal contact phase is for the officer to observe the driver while he or she is still in the car, to assess whether signs exist that suggest that the driver may be impaired. He or she will be relying on sensory cues to assess the driver’s state of sobriety. 

These cues include: 

  • Visual: The officer will be looking for intoxication-related symptoms such as bloodshot eyes, alcohol containers in the car, drugs or drug paraphernalia, unusual actions, soiled clothing, or shaky hands and fingers.
  • Audible: The officer will be listening for the driver's admission that he or she has been drinking, slurred speech, inconsistent answers to questions, abusive language or unusual statements.
  • Smell: The officer will note whether the odor of alcohol or marijuana is present, or if the driver has been using something like candies or breath sprays as an attempt to cover up such odors, as well as noticing whether other unusual odors are present in the vehicle.

Police officers are trained in interview techniques that impaired drivers will have difficulty with, most notably questions that require the driver to satisfactorily demonstrate divided attention tasks. During this questioning, the officer will be looking for tip-off behaviors. For example, when asked for a driver's license and registration, does the driver forget to provide both, or provide a document other than one requested? Does the driver seem to be fumbling for the documents?

If the questioning leads the officer to suspect intoxication, then he or she will usually instruct the driver to exit the vehicle. Even then the officer will be observing for symptoms, such as the driver's inability to follow instructions, inability to open the door, leaning against the vehicle or having to use the hands to steady his or herself.

Police are trained to use techniques to effectively get a driver to trip himself or herself up. If they have used these techniques on you, the best way not to trip yourself up in court is to retain an experienced defense attorney knowledgeable in New York DUI law.

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