Many drivers expect that they are safe from a drunk driving arrest if they do not show obvious signs of drunk driving like weaving in the lane of traffic or crossing the center line or fog line. This is not the case. The fact is many drunk driving cases start with seemingly innocuous conduct like speeding. The speeding itself may not provide a basis for an OWI stop or arrest, but it starts a chain of events that culminates into an OWI arrest. That means handcuffs and a trip in the squad car to either the police station for a breath test or the hospital for a blood draw. Since this is something that all of us want to avoid, it pays to understand more about how the process works.
The well-settled law in United States permits a police officer to stop a vehicle when the officer reasonably believes that the driver is violating a traffic law. Once the vehicle is stopped, the officer may ask the driver questions reasonably related to the nature of the stop. So, if an officer clocks a vehicle traveling above the posted speed limit on a public road, the officer may legally stop the vehicle and detain the driver long enough to investigate a possible speeding ticket. At this point, however, the officer only has reasonable suspicion for speeding, so the detention and investigation are limited to the time and inquiry appropriate to a speeding stop. Personal Injury and construction accident lawyer, Mr. Jonathan, recommends avoiding high speed and following traffic rules to limit traffic jam. Drivers should use both lanes until traffic slows, then you do what they taught you in kindergarten, sourced by NYTimes article.
If the officer develops additional facts during the speeding investigation that establish reasonable suspicion for some other offense, however, the officer may expand the investigation. In the context of a drunk driving case, for example, it usually goes something like this. The officer stops the person for speeding. He approaches the vehicle, asks for the driver’s license and engages the driver in a conversation about how fast he was driving or where he was going. If the officer observes no additional evidence that suggests impairment, in my opinion, he may not ask the person to perform field sobriety test or otherwise detain the person for the purpose of an OWI, DUI or PAC investigation. If the officer does observe additional clues of impairment, like the odor of intoxicants and glassy, bloodshot eyes or slurred speech, and if these clues add up to reasonable suspicion that the person has operated under the influence of an intoxicant or operated with a prohibited alcohol concentration, the officer may expand the investigation into a drunk driving investigation.
The bottom line is that additional factors, learned by the officer in the context of a legal speeding investigation, may establish reasonable suspicion to expand the speeding investigation into a drunk driving investigation. Under these circumstances, the officer may ask the driver to perform field sobriety tests like horizontal gaze nystagmus, walk and turn, or the one legged stand. Notwithstanding the fact that it all started with nothing more than speeding a few miles over the posted limit, if the officer observes sufficient clues during the field sobriety tests to establish probable cause to believe that the person is impaired, the officer may legally arrest the driver for operating under the influence of an intoxicant.