DC DUI Traffic Stops

According to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a police officer must have reasonable, articulable suspicion of possible or probable criminal activity to initiate a DC DUI traffic stop. Typically, a traffic stop is initiated based on the officer’s observations at the time.

Once an officer has pulled a person over, the officer often will ask them to perform a variety of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. If a person has been charged with driving under the influence, an experienced DC DUI lawyer can provide a person with defense strategies.

Proof of Impairment

DUI Traffic Stops in Washington, DCBAC stands for blood alcohol content and it is the measure of alcohol present in the bloodstream at the time of testing by police officers.

BAC may be affected by many factors, which include not only any alcohol a person may have consumed, but also their physical or emotional health at the time, along with any recently consumed food, medications, or prescription drugs.

Drunk Driving Classifications

There are three classifications of drunk driving in DC:

  • DWI – driving while intoxicated – the BAC level must measure 0.08% for drivers over the age of 21 (under 21 has a zero-tolerance policy)
  • DUI – driving under the influence – usually implies a lesser degree of alleged intoxication/impairment
  • OWI – operating while intoxicated – being impaired while operating a motor vehicle

Determining Possible Impairment

Police officers use three main ways to detect and determine possible impairment at DC DUI traffic stops, which include:

  • Erratic Driving – Typically, police officers initially pull a person over based on a hunch or suspicion of driving under the influence by observing erratic driving. Signs of erratic driving can include driving too slowly, swerving or weaving, and failure to yield or stop at posted signs.
  • Field Sobriety Tests – Once an officer has stopped a person for suspicion of DUI/DWI, they will most likely ask the person to exit the vehicle and perform one or a set of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. These tests include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), the Walk and Turn, and One Leg Stand tests.
  • BAC Tests – If the officer believes the person failed the field sobriety tests, the officer will more than likely arrest the person and take the person to the police station to perform a BAC test. A BAC is administered by taking a blood sample. Breath or urine tests are more commonly used and are governed by separate standards for determination of intoxication.

Typical Stop Process

When stopping an individual, the law enforcement officer will first engage the driver in conversation. They ask the driver to get out of the car or produce a driver’s license, registration, and insurance.

At some point during the conversation with the person, the officer may ask if the driver was drinking. Based on the results of their initial assessment of the information, they might ask the person to get out of their car to perform standardized field sobriety tests.

Depending on the results of the field tests, a person could be arrested and taken to one of the police districts to provide urine, blood, or breath samples.

Testing Requirements

DC has an “implied consent law.” This means that if a person refuses to submit to a blood, breath, or urine test, they will be subject to an automatic one-year license suspension.

It is up to the arresting officer to inform the person of the implied consent law and to let them know that there is a one-year suspension of their license if they refuse the test.

Speaking to an Attorney

If someone is stopped by the police, they could ask to speak to a lawyer, but that request is not always granted. If an officer wants to interview that person about an alleged DUI offense, they should decline the interview and ask for a lawyer.

At that point, the officer should stop trying to interview the person. Some officers on rare occasions give that person the opportunity to call a lawyer. Most do not and the person should not continue with any interview without a lawyer being present.