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Investigating suspected drunk drivers

When a person is suspected of committing a crime, police, state troopers and sheriff's deputies may take certain actions to determine what they think happened. This isn't always easy because there might be a lack of evidence. In the case of drunk driving (often referred to as OUI or DUI in Massachusetts), charges may be brought as a result of a law enforcement officer initially observing signs of intoxication in a driver.

Signs can include a swerving vehicle, reckless driving or other careless actions on the road. Whether or not an accident has occurred, law enforcement may be aggressive in trying to identify drunk drivers. Here are some methods that officers use to make an arrest.


Personal observations

A cop seeing possible signs of intoxication can result in a traffic stop that leads to an arrest. If there is an accident and the drivers involved remain at the scene, the officer might evaluate each driver to determine if alcohol could have played a part in the accident. Law enforcement personnel are trained to look for certain symptoms during a traffic stop: bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and the smell of alcohol are some of the most common indicators of impairment.

When an officer suspects that a driver is intoxicated, that person is usually asked to take a breath test (perhaps after being asked to walk a line or say the alphabet backwards) to determine his or her blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The result of this test will usually determine if an arrest is made.


If there is an accident and one driver leaves the scene, an investigation to find the driver will ensue. It would be difficult to impossible to determine if the driver was drunk at the time of the accident unless the person is caught relatively quickly. This is because the evidence of a drunk driving accident, the blood alcohol concentration, must be obtained within a certain amount of time after the accident.

Police officers who are conducting an investigation might interview witnesses. This could include everyone else who was involved in the accident to determine what happened. These interviews might allow officers to find involved parties who fled, but they are sometimes unsuccessful.

Decision to charge

Cops and prosecutors have to decide how they are going to handle a suspected drunk driver. The decision about whether to arrest a person, issue a citation or give the person a warning is usually up to the law enforcement officer. In certain circumstances, officers must adhere to mandatory actions, such as arresting a person with a BAC at or above the legal limit.

Prosecutors look at the facts of cases to determine how to proceed. In some instances, they will turn to a grand jury to determine what course of action to take.

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