A: When a police officer stops a suspect for possible DWI, the officer is trained to look for several “clues” to help him make a determination regarding the sobriety of the suspect. The clues are largely derived from the research of the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTA). The NHTA prints a manual which law enforcement officers are trained to follow in alcohol related stops. A few of the clues include:
- Effectuating an improper turn (turns with too large/small a radius)
- Repeatedly crossing the double yellow lane
- Striking objects on the roadway
- Excessive weaving or swerving between lanes, erratic driving
- Driving too slow (less than 10mph) below speed limit or too fast (necessitating a stop)
- Stopping in a traffic lane without reason
- Following too closely behind the vehicle in front
- Braking the vehicle in lane of travel erratically or without cause
- Signaling inconsistent with driving actions
- Driving with vehicle headlights off
Initially in a traffic stop, an officer is looking for signs of alcohol use. An officer will engage the suspect in a dialogue in order to monitor speech pattern and to smell for alcohol. They will note the suspects physical appearance in the car, any odor of alcohol in the car and any open containers in the car.
While a suspect always has legal rights (ie. the right not to incriminate herself by answering questions) which they may choose to exercise, it is important that a suspect always be polite a courteous to law enforcement officers. If a suspect chooses not to answer questions or to engage any field sobriety tests as requested by the officer, the suspect should politely inform the officer of his decision and allow the officer to determine how he wishes to proceed. The officer may choose to take the suspect into custody and transport her to the police station in order to administer a breathalyzer test. This is a test based on the suspects alcohol content on her breath. A suspect will blow into a machine and the machine will determine alcohol content on the breath. The result of this test will be used against the suspect in court.
If requested by a police officer to take the breathalyzer test (not to be confused with a preliminary breath test which is given in the field and is not required by law), Maryland law requires that the suspect take the test. Technically, a suspect can refuse to take the test if they so choose but the suspect will face administrative penalties involving the probable loss of their license for a significant period of time (120 days for a first refusal and a year for subsequent refusal). A suspect is always entitled to an Administrative hearing when stopped for an alcohol violation in order to modify the possible penalty for the offense but a suspect is reminded that the administrative request for hearing must be filed timely (generally within 10 days of the offense but in no event later than 30 days).