If pulled over, the officer should be pulling you over for some violation of a Traffic Law. That could include a faulty light, speeding, or even a suspicion of Driving While Intoxicated. Whether it’s a checkpoint or you’ve been pulled over, the first thing the officer will do is approach your vehicle and ask for your license and registration. If he or she believes you may have been drinking alcohol, they will likely ask you certain questions to elicit evidence of potential intoxication:
“Have you been drinking tonight?”
“How much have you had to drink?”
“Where are you coming from?” (to see if you mention a bar or restaurant).
He or she will likely investigate further to determine your level of impairment. This may start with what is called DWI Pre-exit Tests.
Pre-exit Tests consist of tests that can be performed while still seated in your vehicle. They can include counting, reciting the alphabet, or finger dexterity tests (touch thumb to fingertip on each hand while counting).
If the officer feels you may be intoxicated, he or she will ask you to exit the vehicle. Once out of the vehicle, the officer will likely ask you to perform Standardized Field Sobriety Tests.
The three common roadside sobriety tests are the One-Legged Stand, the Walk-and-Turn, and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus.
One Legged-Stand Test
The officer requests you stand with one leg out in front of you, with the raised foot pointed up and both legs straight, hands at your side. You will be asked to count out loud until you reach thirty. The “clues” the officer is looking for in this test is raising your arms for balance, hopping, dropping your foot early, or swaying.
The next test is the Walk-and-Turn. In this test, the officer will ask you to walk a straight line, making contact heel-to-toe, for nine steps, while watching your feet, counting out loud, and keeping your hands at your side. The “clues” that are looked for are starting the test too soon, using hands for balance, stepping off line, missing heel-to-toe by more then a half-inch, an incorrect turn, a wrong number of steps, stopping the test early or not maintaining balance during instructions.
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
Nystagmus is the involuntary twitching of the eyes. Nystagmus can be caused for several reasons, one is alcohol impairment. The test is performed by the officer asking you to follow a stimulus while holding your head still. The officer is supposed to move the stimulus from left to right, watching each eye for certain “clues.” while performing the test, the officer is looking to see if your eyes do not track smoothly, or to see if you have ‘distinct’ Nystagmus when your eyes are all the way to one side. It is a common misbelief that this test is looking for whether you can follow the stimulus without moving your head, and while the officer will make note of it, it is not the primary purpose of the test. Therefore, no one but the officer knows whether you ‘passed’ the test or not.
AlcoSensor Test (Handheld Breathalyzer Machine)
In addition to these tests, the officer will likely ask you to blow into a Handheld Breathalyzer Test; known as the AlcoSensor. The AlcoSensor is used by the officer to determine your level of intoxication from the side of the road. The numerical results of this test CANNOT be used at trial. The officer can only testify as to whether the machine indicated a positive reading for alcohol on your breath.
Once the AlcoSensor is administered and the Roadside Sobriety Tests are given the officer will make a determination as to whether they believe they have probable cause to arrest you.
Intoxilyer 5000 or Intoximeter EC/IR II Test
In most instances, you will be taken to a local police precinct for the administration of this test. The test is similar to the AlcoSensor test in that there is a machine being used to attempt to measure the level of alcohol on your breath. Before administering this test, the officer must read you your rights regarding the test and your right to refuse.
This test is what is called an “implied consent” test which means that, by driving on North Carolina roads, you have ‘implied’ to ‘consent’ to the test. This test will produce a numerical value for your blood/alcohol level which WILL be used against you in court. Unfortunately, since this test is an ‘implied consent’ test, the refusal to provide a breath sample will result in the loss of your license for 12 months. Keep in mind, however, if you are found guilty of DWI you will also lose your license. Also to be considered is the fact that, even if you refuse to provide a breath sample, the arresting officer can still attempt to obtain a warrant to take a sample of your blood, even without your consent.
After the administration of the Intoxilylzer 5000 or Intoximeter EC/IR II Breathalyzer Test, you will be booked and go before a Magistrate. The Magistrate will make a determination as to whether to set bond or not and will advise you of your charges and your rights.