Drivers have important constitutional rights which protect them during a DUI stop. Answers to incriminating questions, field sobriety tests, and tests of blood or breath can all incriminate a driver for drunk driving. This is why the protections of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments are so important during these procedures.
It is also important for drivers to understand both the procedures and the rights which protect them, in order to enforce their constitutional rights during a DUI stop.
What Constitutional Rights Do Drivers Have?
The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from involuntary searches and seizures. This means that an officer cannot search a vehicle or seize evidence from the driver for arbitrary reasons. However, if an officer has probable cause to believe that a crime has been or is being committed - for example, if there are physical signs of intoxication - then he or she can conduct a more thorough search. Also, if evidence is left "in plain view" of the officer - such as a glass pipe with drug residue that is visible on the dashboard or back seat - then the officer can use that evidence as justification to carry out a more thorough search.
It is important for drivers to be aware of Florida’s Implied Consent statute. This law creates a presumption that drivers who use public roadways in Florida consent to the testing of their blood or breath for alcohol. Drivers have the right to refuse such tests, but when they do, their driver’s license is suspended as a result of the refusal.
The Fifth Amendment protects drivers from having to answer incriminating questions posed by a police officer. Even such simple questions as “have you been drinking tonight?” can lead to an incriminating answer. Drivers have the constitutional right to decline to answer such questions.
The Power of Observation
Unfortunately, neither of these constitutional protections prevent an officer from simply observing signs of intoxication in a driver who is suspected of DUI. It is therefore important for drivers to understand the signs officers are looking for. BAC Track spoke with one officer about signs of intoxication. A primary indicator he identified was other traffic violations, such as speeding, driving without headlights on at night, or improper lane changes or usage.
In many cases the drunk driver was referred to police by citizen phone calls. They, too, had observed signs of intoxication which police were now free to observe, as well. In some cases the behavior was egregious. One drunk driver was found asleep at a green light with his foot on the brake.
In Maryland, police recruits recently got direct experience with drunk volunteers. U.S. News and World Report reports that the volunteers were given alcohol and monitored with breath tests. As they reached (and passed) the legal limit for drunk driving, recruits were able to practice their skills in recognizing the signs of intoxication (for example, horizontal gaze nystagmus, in which the eye makes involuntary jerking movements).
These are tests which have been validated over years of scientific research into the effects of intoxication. Officers use them to determine whether a driver has been drinking, which in turn affects arrest and charging decisions.
Our experienced Jacksonville DUI attorney has seen defendants treated less favorably by the criminal justice system because they were not represented by counsel and did not know how to protect their constitutional rights. Be sure to get legal advice as soon as possible after a DUI arrest.