Police officers who have a reason to believe that a driver is impaired is going to take steps to determine if their belief is correct. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recognizes three phases that must occur in the drunk driving detection process.
The only exception to the following three is if a driver is in a crash and is exhibiting signs of impairment.
- The vehicle is in motion
- The officer makes personal contact
- There is a pre-arrest screening
Part of determining whether a person is too impaired to drive safely is the standardized field sobriety test. There are three components of the SFST, and any other tests that are done aren't considered part of it. The three tests in this battery include:
- The one leg stand: A balance and attention test that can clue officers into possible intoxication.
- The horizontal gaze nystagmus: A look at the involuntary jerking of the eyes while looking at an object.
- The walk and turn: A divided attention test that gauges the person's ability to do two things at once.
Each of these tests give the officers clues about the person's sobriety or impairment. Together, they provide a reasonable look into whether the person is driving drunk or under the influence of drugs. Still, the SFST might not be fully correct. This is partly due to individual circumstances and because some elements are left to personal interpretation.
Actions after a SFST
If you don't pass the SFST, the officer might ask you for a chemical test. This is done through a breath, urine or blood sample that is tested for the presence of alcohol. If you are impaired from some other substance, these tests might not point to anything. If you are using drugs, they will show in your urine and blood even when you aren't impaired by them.
When an officer feels they have a valid reason to think that you are too impaired to drive, you will be arrested. This starts the difficult process of battling a criminal justice trial and an administrative procedure. You must get the defense for both of these started right away. You are facing the possibility of time in jail, steep fines, mandatory evaluations and classes, and the loss of your driver's license. Because of the harsh penalties, it is advisable to begin working out the defense strategy quickly.