Have you been arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in Houston or anywhere else in Harris County or surrounding counties? If so, did you know that the police before ever pulling you over probably suspected you of drinking prior to driving? It's all part of the DWI detection process Texas police officers are trained to use to watch for drunk or drugged drivers. Understanding what police officers look for can help you make informed decisions when you go out and have a drink with friends and family and then get behind the wheel to drive home.
Doug Murphy is a Board Certified DWI defense lawyer and Board Certified criminal defense lawyer who can help you in these situations. He possesses a deep understanding of the DWI Detection process in Texas and can review your case to identify problematic areas and challenge the process when applicable. Doug Murphy has received accolades and voted on by fellow lawyers as one of the best DWI lawyers in Houston, throughout Texas and was recently voted as 2021 Lawyer of the Year by Best Lawyers in America for his work in DWI Defense for the Houston area.
What is the Texas DWI Detection process?
In Texas as in the rest of the United States, police officers are trained to detect a driver who may be driving while intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. This process is meant to help an officer distinguish a driver who may be intoxicated as opposed to those drivers who are not intoxicated and then gather evidence before determining to arrest the DWI suspected driver or not. Keep in mind that intoxication is a very subjective opinion. Police use tools to try to make it appear that their opinion is objective and an attempt to add credibility to their subjective opinions.
DWI detection consists of three main components: (1) vehicle in motion; (2) personal contact; and (3) pre-arrest screening.
Vehicle in Motion
Police officers watch vehicles as they pass and look for possible traffic violations. There are cues that officers observe that could indicate a driver is driving while under the influence. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), these so-called cues or initial indicators of DWI are divided into four types of problems:
- Problems in maintaining proper lane position
- Speed and braking problems
- Vigilance problems, and
- Judgment problems.
Problems in Maintaining Proper Lane Position
- Weaving across the lane line
- Straddling a lane line
- Almost striking object or vehicle
- Turning with a wide radius.
Speed, Braking, and Stopping Problems
- Varying speed
- 10 mph or more under the speed limit
- Unnecessary acceleration or deceleration
- Stopping too far from a curb or at an inappropriate angle
- Stopping too short or beyond a limit line
- Jerky or abrupt stops
- Unnecessary acceleration or deceleration
- Varying speed
- 10 mph or more under the speed limit
- Driving without headlights at night
- Failure to signal or signal inconsistent with action
- Driving in opposing lanes or wrong way on one way
- Slow response to traffic signals
- Slow or failure to respond to officer's signals
- Stopping in the lane for no apparent reason
- Following too closely (tailgating)
- Improper or unsafe lane change
- Illegal or improper turn
- Driving on other than designated roadway
- Stopping inappropriately in response to the officer
- Inappropriate or unusual behavior (throwing objects, arguing, etc.)
- Appearing to be impaired
During this phase, the officer determines whether to pull a driver over for a traffic stop based on the cue(s) observed. The officer could also decide to keep monitoring the driver for additional cues or to turn his or her attention to something else. Regardless of the decision, the police officer makes, one thing is clear: most of these "problems" or "cues" are indicative of a whole host of other things, too. Using these as indicators of DWI already plants a seed in the officer's mind that the driver may be intoxicated.
If the officer decided to pull you over for a traffic stop, the officer has moved into phase two: personal contact. Here, the officer must have had sufficient or reasonable suspicion that you committed a traffic violation or other crime. Once pulled over, there must also be sufficient reason before asking the driver to step out of the vehicle to conduct a DWI investigation.
Sufficient reason to ask a driver to step out of the vehicle can include:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Fumbling fingers
- Alcohol containers or drug paraphernalia
- Soiled clothing
- Bruises, bumps, or scratches
- The smell of alcohol and/or drugs (e.g., marijuana)
- The smell of odors used to conceal the smell of alcohol or drugs, like breath sprays or perfumes
- Slurred speech
- Abusive language
- Inconsistent responses or incorrect information
- Admissions of alcohol or drug consumption, including prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
Officers are also trained to use “divided attention” techniques to gather evidence before requesting the driver exit the vehicle. These techniques are threefold:
- Ask for two things simultaneously.
- Ask distraction questions or interrupt the driver with questions.
- Ask unusual questions.
Based on the combination of these things, the officer may decide to further his or her investigation and indeed ask you to step out of your car. The problem here is similar to the problems associated with phase one: a driver's behavior or overall circumstances may not be influenced by alcohol or drugs at all, but by the driver's mood, personal qualities, health conditions, among other factors. Plus, the officer intentionally tries to trick or manipulate the driver by using divided attention techniques that can trip up both a sober or intoxicated person.
Pre-arrest screening provides the officer with what is known as probable cause to arrest you for DWI. This is the phase when you are usually asked to perform field sobriety tests and/or take a preliminary breath test.
The three main field sobriety tests include: (1) one leg stand; (2) walk and turn; and (3) horizontal gaze nystagmus. The breath test is taken using a portable breathalyzer. Failing one of these tests can get you arrested. But it is important to remember an arrest does not mean you will be found guilty. Besides, these tests can be challenged in court successfully.
How can the DWI Detection process be challenged in Harris County, TX?
Each step or phase of the DWI detection process can be challenged. With an experienced attorney who understands thoroughly the DWI detection process in Texas, you can expect each aspect of each phase to be reviewed and, when appropriate, challenged. A good starting point is the police report that should provide insight into the DWI detection process. Here are a few examples of challenges your attorney could make.
Example 1: Challenge to Phase One
An officer must have reasonable suspicion to pull you over. The police report should provide the reason for the traffic stop. If there is no specific or valid reason other than a hunch you are driving while intoxicated because you just left a restaurant late at night, then your attorney can challenge the prosecution and move the court to suppress any evidence flowing from the illegal traffic stop.
Example 2: Challenge to Phase Two
The officer may have requested you exit the vehicle without having reason to request the same. The police report should describe the events that occurred and the reasons why a DWI investigation ensued. If you had bloodshot eyes and the officer made you exit, then that could be challenged if you bloodshot eyes were due to some health condition or simply due to limited sleep the night before. Your attorney will challenge the officer's reasons if there is another reason for certain behavior exhibited by you.
Example 3: Challenge to Phase Three
Officers are required to administer and evaluate field sobriety tests in a standardized manner. If the tests did not adhere to standards, then your attorney will challenge the officer's administration of the tests and overall qualifications. Apart from the way the tests were administered, the actual tests themselves are faulty and riddled with problems. An experienced attorney like Doug Murphy keeps abreast of all the controversies and problems involving field sobriety tests and uses his knowledge and insight to challenge the results of the same.
In addition, breathalyzers must be maintained and administered according to rules and regulations. Again, like the administration of sobriety tests, if maintenance and administration of breathalyzers fall below the required standard, then your attorney will challenge the same. Here, too, apart from the administration and maintenance of the breathalyzer, the instrument itself can create inaccurate results at times.
Things to keep in mind if you are pulled over for a traffic stop in Houston after having a drink of alcohol
- Be polite and respectful even when/if you advise the officer you do not wish to answer questions, perform field sobriety tests, and/or refuse a breath test.
- Be mindful that it is quite likely the traffic stop is being recorded, so your behavior will both indicate to the officer if you are or are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs as much as it will be up for interpretation before a prosecutor, judge, and jury.
- From the moment you roll down your window, the police officer is making a judgment about you.
- From the moment you step out of the vehicle, your physical testing has already begun even if you haven't been asked to conduct a field sobriety test yet.
- An officer who asks you to follow him or her to the police vehicle means that officer trusts you are alert enough to safely to do so, which may be a contradiction -- depending on the circumstances -- to his or her actions if an arrest for DWI follows.
Contact the Best DWI Attorney for You in Harris County TX
Recognized by his peers for his legal skill and insight, Doug Murphy travels throughout Texas and beyond to talk to other DWI defense attorneys about how they can improve their practices and DWI defense strategies. He has represented complex cases that required resources, thought, and skill. He knows the criminal system, the prosecutors in Harris County, and will apply his knowledge to your defense. If you have been charged with DWI, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. to discuss the specifics of your case today with an experienced, resourceful and Board Certified DWI defense attorney.