You see the red and blue lights behind you, and your heart sinks. Getting pulled over by the police is not something any of us look forward to. Minor faults like a burned out headlight, expired plates, or speeding might land you with a warning or ticket. But being stopped for DUI (driving under the influence), or as it’s known in Indiana, OWI (operating while intoxicated), can lead to harsh consequences including license suspension, significant fees, and even jail time.
Knowing what to expect can alleviate some stress—and even lessen your consequences. Law enforcement must follow strict protocols for OWI stops and convictions, so the process is fairly standardized. Here’s how it usually unfolds.
1. Being Pulled Over
An officer must have reasonable suspicion of a crime or traffic infraction to stop you or any evidence collected may be deemed inadmissible. Erratic driving, swerving, crossing the yellow line, and unusually low or high speeds are all valid reasons to get pulled over. If you’re in the driver’s seat, it’s important to stay calm.
2. Officer Observes and Asks Questions
Once law enforcement has stopped you, they’ll approach your car looking for clues that you were driving under the influence. Bloodshot eyes, fumbling fingers, slurred speech, and the smell of alcohol or marijuana all give police reason to suspect you may be intoxicated or using drugs. They’ll also peek in your windows for open alcohol containers, drugs, or paraphernalia, and ask if you’ve been drinking or consuming drugs. Based on the officer’s suspicions, you may be asked to step out of the car so he or she can take a closer look at your behavior.
3. Field Sobriety Testing
If you appear to be under the influence, the police officer will likely do a field sobriety test. This includes focusing your eyes on a moving light or finger, walking and turning on a straight line, and standing on one leg. Failing these tests can help give the officer probable cause you are intoxicated, which may lead to a detention or arrest. Also, if the officer testifies in court, your field sobriety results can be used against you, assuming the tests were administered correctly.
4. Check your BAC (Blood Alcohol Content)
You may also be asked to submit to a preliminary breathalyzer test (PBT) on the scene. Since PBT results are only an estimate, their exact results are not usually admissible in court. But the PBT does help officers decide if they have probable cause to offer you a certified BAC test at a police station or hospital, make an arrest, or just let you go. Be aware: you can legally refuse a certified BAC test. However, the refusal to take a properly offered certified breath test will result in a yearlong license suspension during which you would not be eligible for special driving privileges.
5. Arrest or Release
During your stop, the officer is basically scoring you using a standardized point system. Then they’ll use that information at the end to decide whether or not to arrest you. Your scorecard will include points for things like:
- Why the officer pulled you over: a driving violation, abrupt stopping, swerving, reckless driving etc.
- Your behavior and speech. Are you slurring words? Are you argumentative or agitated?
- What the officer smells: alcohol, marijuana, other drugs, or a cover-up like strong air freshener
- The visible presence of alcohol, drugs, or paraphernalia in your car
- Your field sobriety test and breath test results
Police officers follow standardized procedures for OWI investigations. With so many rules and regulations, these situations are anything but cut and dry. That’s why the first step to dealing with an OWI conviction is to find an experienced attorney. Look for someone who knows the nitty-gritty of OWI protocols and procedures. If you’re facing an OWI charge, see how we can help you. Reach out to Kyle Cray, a member of the American Association of Premier DUI Attorneys, at 765-742-9066.
The content of this blog is intended to be general and informational in nature. It is advertising material and is not intended to be, nor is it, legal advice to or for any particular person, case, or circumstance. Each situation is different, and you should consult an attorney if you have any questions about your situation.