What Initial Physical and Behavioral Symptoms Do Police Officers Look for During a DUI Stop?

What Initial Physical and Behavioral Symptoms Do Police Officers Look for During a DUI Stop?

The Traffic Stop: Your First Impression Matters

So, you‘re driving home after a night out – when suddenly, those dreaded flashing lights appear in your rearview mirror. Your heart sinks, because you know what‘s coming next: a DUI stop. But, take a deep breath – this doesn’t have to be a nightmare scenario. With the right knowledge and approach, you can navigate this situation smoothly.The moment an officer pulls you over, they‘re already looking for signs of impairment. Every action, every word, every movement is being scrutinized. It’s their job to determine if you’re under the influence – and they’ve been trained to pick up on even the slightest cues.Now, let‘s be clear: we‘re not here to help you “beat the system” if you‘ve been drinking and driving. That‘s incredibly dangerous, and something we‘ll never condone. But, if you’re sober and facing an officer who might think otherwise, you need to know how to handle yourself.

The Officer’s Checklist: What They’re Looking For

From the second you pull over, the officer is running through a mental checklist of potential impairment indicators. These can be divided into two main categories: physical symptoms and behavioral symptoms.

Physical Symptoms

These are the tangible, visible signs that could point to intoxication:

  • Bloodshot or watery eyes
  • Slurred speech
  • Flushed face
  • Odor of alcohol or drugs
  • Lack of coordination or balance

Even if you haven’t had a drop to drink, factors like fatigue, allergies, or certain medications can sometimes mimic these physical cues. That’s why officers don‘t rely on them alone.

Behavioral Symptoms

This is where things get a bit trickier – and more subjective. The officer will be looking for:

  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Inability to follow instructions
  • Aggressive or confrontational behavior
  • Unusual statements or irrational comments
  • General demeanor and attitude

Basically, anything that seems “off” or out of the ordinary could be interpreted as a sign of impairment. And this is where things can get tricky for the completely sober individual.Nerves, stress, and anxiety can absolutely lead to behaviors that might raise an officer’s suspicion – even if you’re stone-cold sober. That‘s why it’s crucial to know how to conduct yourself.

Handling the Interaction: Do’s and Don’ts

When you‘re pulled over on suspicion of DUI, every move you make matters. Here are some key do’s and don‘ts to keep in mind:


  • Be polite and cooperative (but know your rights)
  • Keep your hands visible on the steering wheel
  • Provide your license, registration, and insurance when asked
  • Avoid unnecessary movement or reaching around the vehicle
  • Speak slowly and clearly
  • If asked to step out of the vehicle, do so carefully and follow instructions


  • Don’t argue, act confrontational, or raise your voice
  • Don’t make any sudden movements
  • Don’t volunteer information or admit to drinking (even if you haven’t)
  • Don’t refuse to answer basic questions about your name, DOB, etc.
  • Don’t try to joke or be overly friendly with the officer

Remember, the officer is looking for any reason to escalate the situation and investigate further. By remaining calm, compliant (within your rights), and respectful, you minimize the chances of that happening.

The Dreaded Field Sobriety Tests

If the officer suspects impairment based on your physical symptoms, demeanor, or driving, they may ask you to perform standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs). These are a series of divided attention tests designed to assess your physical and cognitive abilities.Common SFSTs include:

  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus test (following a moving object with your eyes)
  • The walk-and-turn test (taking a specific number of heel-to-toe steps, turning, and returning)
  • The one-leg stand test (balancing on one leg for a set period)

Now, here‘s the thing: these tests are highly subjective, and even sober individuals can struggle with them due to factors like age, weight, medical conditions, or nerves.You have the legal right to refuse SFSTs – but doing so will likely lead to your arrest on suspicion of DUI. If you’re confident in your sobriety, taking the tests (while remaining polite) might be your best option.Just remember: officers are trained to scrutinize your every move during these tests. Things like using your arms for balance, starting too soon, or failing to follow exact instructions can all be interpreted as “clues” of impairment.

The Breathalyzer: Your Moment of Truth

If you “fail” the field sobriety tests or the officer has other reasons to suspect impairment, you’ll likely be asked to take a preliminary breath test (PBT) using a handheld breathalyzer.In most states, you can legally refuse this test – but doing so will almost certainly lead to your arrest. If you‘re sober, taking the PBT and passing is usually your best bet.However, it‘s important to understand that these devices aren’t always accurate. Things like residual mouth alcohol, certain medical conditions, and even the environment can impact the results.If you do take the PBT and “fail” (by registering over the legal limit), you‘ll be arrested and taken to the station for an evidentiary chemical test – either a breathalyzer or blood test.At this point, refusing the test is inadvisable, as it will result in an automatic license suspension in most states. Your best move is to take the test and discuss the results with a qualified DUI attorney.

When to Lawyer Up: Protecting Your Rights

Facing a DUI charge is a serious matter with potentially life-altering consequences. From the moment you’re pulled over, everything you say and do can impact your case.That’s why having an experienced DUI lawyer in your corner is so crucial. They can:

  • Advise you on how to properly interact with law enforcement
  • Ensure your rights are protected throughout the process
  • Challenge the legality of the traffic stop or arrest
  • Scrutinize the accuracy and administration of field sobriety and chemical tests
  • Negotiate for reduced charges or alternative sentencing options
  • Represent you in court and fight for the best possible outcome

At the Spodek Law Group, we understand the nuances of DUI cases and the tactics law enforcement uses to build them. Our team of skilled attorneys will leave no stone unturned in pursuing the most favorable resolution for your situation.Remember: a DUI charge isn‘t the end of the world – but how you handle it can make all the difference. With the right legal representation and a proactive approach, you can protect your rights and mitigate the potential consequences.

The Bottom Line: Stay Vigilant, Stay Sober

Look, we get it: dealing with a DUI stop is stressful, intimidating, and can leave you feeling powerless. But, by understanding what officers are looking for and how to properly conduct yourself, you can navigate these situations with confidence.Of course, the easiest way to avoid a DUI stop altogether is to never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Not only is it incredibly dangerous, but the consequences of a conviction can be devastating – from hefty fines and license suspension to potential jail time.So, be smart. Plan ahead. Designate a sober driver or use a rideshare service if you’ve been drinking. It‘s a small price to pay for peace of mind and avoiding a life-altering mistake.But, if you do find yourself facing a DUI stop, remember: remain calm, know your rights, and don‘t hesitate to seek legal counsel. At the Spodek Law Group, we’re here to fight for you every step of the way.Because in our book, every client deserves honesty, compassion, and the most aggressive defense possible. It‘s that simple.

What Happens When You Refuse a Chemical Test?

What Happens When You Refuse a Chemical Test?

The Consequences of Refusing a Breathalyzer or Blood Test

So, you‘ve been pulled over – on suspicion of driving under the influence. The officer asks you to take a breathalyzer or blood test, but you refuse. What happens next? Well, brace yourself – because the consequences can be severe.By refusing a chemical test, you’re essentially violating the state’s “implied consent” laws. When you obtained your driver’s license, you agreed to submit to chemical testing if suspected of DUI. So, by refusing, you‘re breaking that agreement – and the penalties can be harsh.

License Suspension or Revocation

One of the most immediate consequences is an automatic license suspension or revocation. The length varies by state, but it’s typically:

  • 1 year for a first offense
  • 2 years if you have a prior DUI conviction within the last 7-10 years (depending on the state)
  • 3 years or more for multiple prior DUI convictions

And here‘s the kicker – this suspension happens regardless of whether you’re ultimately convicted of DUI or not. It‘s an administrative penalty, solely for refusing the test.

Criminal Penalties

But that‘s not all. If you’re convicted of the underlying DUI offense, refusing the chemical test can lead to enhanced criminal penalties, such as:

  • Longer jail sentences
  • Higher fines
  • Longer probation periods
  • Mandatory alcohol education or treatment programs
  • Ignition interlock device installation

The exact penalties vary by state and depend on factors like your prior record and blood alcohol level (if known).

Evidence of “Consciousness of Guilt”

In many states, prosecutors can use your refusal as evidence of “consciousness of guilt” at trial. The logic? If you were sober, you‘d have no reason to refuse the test.While this evidence alone can’t convict you, it certainly doesn’t help your case. The jury may view your refusal as an admission that you were, in fact, impaired.

No Restricted License

Typically, with a DUI conviction, you may be eligible for a restricted license that allows driving for work, school, etc. But in many states, a test refusal makes you ineligible for this privilege during the suspension period.So, what was your reason for refusing? Was it worth potentially losing your license for a year or more, facing harsher criminal penalties, and having that refusal used against you in court? For most, the answer is a resounding “no.”

Potential Defenses for Test Refusal

But, there may be valid defenses to a chemical test refusal allegation. An experienced DUI lawyer can evaluate your case and determine if any of these apply:

Confusion Over Instructions

If the officer failed to provide clear instructions or properly advise you of the consequences of refusal, you may have a defense. The implied consent laws require strict compliance by law enforcement.

Medical Inability to Take Test

Certain medical conditions, like respiratory issues or hemophilia, could make it difficult or impossible to provide an adequate breath or blood sample. If this applies, your refusal may be excused.

Coercion or Intimidation

If the officer threatened, coerced, or intimidated you into refusing, that could invalidate the refusal. Police must follow proper procedures.

No Lawful Arrest

For the refusal to be valid, your arrest must have been lawful – meaning the officer had probable cause to pull you over and make the arrest. If not, the entire DUI stop could be inadmissible.

Unconscious or Incoherent

If you were unconscious or so impaired that you couldn’t understand the officer‘s instructions, you may have a defense against the refusal allegation.The bottom line? Refusing a chemical test is a risky move that can have severe consequences. But if you’ve been charged with test refusal, don‘t just plead guilty – consult an experienced DUI attorney immediately to protect your rights and driving privileges.

The Implied Consent Law: What You Need to Know

At the heart of chemical test refusal cases is the “implied consent” law. But what exactly does this mean?Essentially, by obtaining a driver’s license in your state, you’ve automatically consented to chemical testing if suspected of DUI. It’s an implied agreement – hence the name.The logic is simple: Driving is a privilege, not a right. And in exchange for that privilege, you’ve agreed to provide a breath, blood, or urine sample if lawfully arrested for DUI.Most states have adopted some form of implied consent law to combat impaired driving and make it easier to obtain chemical test evidence.

Strict Requirements for Law Enforcement

However, these laws also impose strict requirements on law enforcement. Officers must:

  • Have probable cause to believe you were driving under the influence
  • Lawfully arrest you for DUI
  • Clearly advise you of your rights and the consequences of refusal
  • Use approved testing methods and equipment
  • Follow proper procedures throughout the process

If officers fail to meet any of these requirements, your refusal may be deemed invalid – and the resulting license suspension could be overturned.

Enhanced Penalties for Refusal

To deter motorists from refusing tests, most implied consent laws authorize enhanced penalties for those who do refuse, such as:

  • Longer license suspensions or revocations
  • Mandatory jail time (even for first offenses)
  • Higher fines and court costs
  • Longer probation periods
  • Ignition interlock device requirements

The goal? Make the consequences of refusal so severe that submitting to testing is the only logical choice.

Limited Exceptions and Defenses

While implied consent laws are strict, there are limited exceptions and potential defenses to a refusal charge, including:

  • Medical conditions preventing a valid sample
  • Confusion over instructions or consequences
  • Lack of probable cause for the DUI arrest
  • Improper procedures by law enforcement

However, these defenses are highly fact-specific. An experienced DUI lawyer is essential to evaluate your case and protect your rights.At the end of the day, implied consent laws exist to keep impaired drivers off the roads and gather evidence for prosecution. While you can refuse chemical testing, doing so carries severe risks – so carefully consider your options.

The Refusal Hearing: Your Chance to Fight the Suspension

So, you refused a chemical test after a DUI arrest – now what? In most states, you’ll face an administrative license suspension or revocation by the DMV or similar agency.But before that suspension takes effect, you have the right to challenge it at a “refusal hearing” – a crucial opportunity to present your case and keep your driving privileges intact.

What Happens at a Refusal Hearing?

At this informal administrative hearing, the arresting officer will testify about the circumstances surrounding your arrest and refusal. You’ll have the chance to:

  • Cross-examine the officer
  • Present your own evidence and witnesses
  • Argue against the suspension

The hearing officer must then decide if the legal requirements for a valid refusal were met, such as:

  • Probable cause for the DUI stop and arrest
  • Proper advisement of your rights and consequences
  • Lawful arrest procedures
  • Your conscious refusal to take the test

If the officer fails to prove any of these elements, the suspension should be invalidated.

Potential Defenses and Strategies

Common defenses raised at refusal hearings include:

  • Confusion over instructions or consequences
  • Medical inability to provide an adequate sample
  • Improper arrest or testing procedures
  • Lack of probable cause for the DUI stop

An experienced DUI lawyer can review the evidence, identify potential defenses, and present a strong case to the hearing officer on your behalf.

The Importance of Winning

While a refusal hearing doesn’t determine guilt or innocence for the underlying DUI charge, the stakes are still high. Keeping your license can mean:

  • Maintaining your ability to drive for work, school, etc.
  • Avoiding a lengthy “hard” suspension period
  • Potential plea bargaining leverage in criminal court

A successful refusal hearing outcome also prevents that refusal from being used as evidence of “consciousness of guilt” at a later criminal trial.So take the refusal hearing seriously. With proper preparation and an aggressive legal defense, you may be able to avoid or minimize the harsh consequences of refusing that chemical test.

Fighting a DUI Refusal Charge in Criminal Court

If you refused a chemical test and are facing DUI charges, the battle isn’t over – it’s just beginning. An experienced DUI defense lawyer can fight the refusal allegation and the underlying DUI in criminal court.

Challenging the Refusal Itself

First, your lawyer will scrutinize whether the refusal was truly valid under the law, looking for issues like:

  • Lack of probable cause for the DUI stop/arrest
  • Improper advisement of rights and consequences
  • Failure to follow testing procedures
  • Medical inability to provide an adequate sample
  • Coercion, intimidation, or confusion by the officer

If the refusal was legally invalid, your lawyer can move to suppress that evidence and any statements you made.

Undermining the DUI Case

Even with a valid refusal, the prosecution still must prove the DUI charge beyond a reasonable doubt. Your lawyer can attack other evidence, such as:

  • Field sobriety test administration and scoring
  • Dash cam footage inconsistent with impairment
  • Lack of erratic driving patterns
  • Rising blood alcohol level defenses

The goal? Raise enough doubt that a jury cannot convict on the DUI charge itself.

What DUI Driving Patterns do Officers Look For?

Police officers are trained to be able to spot unique driving patterns that help them to detect drunk drivers on the road. These officers do not base their decisions to pull over drivers based on hunches or gut feelings, they rely heavily on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studies that show certain patterns are consistent with driving a vehicle under the influence.

An officer will perform a DUI stop if a driver exhibits one or more of the following driving patterns;

Wide Radius Turning – Unable to maintain the correct speed and turn the wheel at the same time, this lack of coordination tells officers the driver may be inebriated. Usually the officer will follow the vehicle to see if it was an isolated mistake or if other DUI driving patterns follow.

Weaving on the Road – When the officer sees a vehicle weaving back and forth, they will follow at a safe distance before determining if the driver needs to pull over. The weaving could simply be a distracted driver at first, so after following for a distance, the officer will make the determination if the weaving persists.

Straddling Center Lane Marker – One of the things that a drunk driver will do is straddle the center lane in an effort to try and make it to their destination. Unable to see clearly to the shoulder line, using the center line as a guide helps the drunk driver to stay in their lane. The officer can see the vehicle is to close to oncoming traffic, something the driver does not realize because they are too focused on the lane marker.

Almost Striking a Vehicle or Object – When an officer observes that a driver almost strikes another vehicle or a stationary object, they will begin pursuing the driver. Although this can certainly be a case of a driver losing focus for an instant, it is a good indicator that a driver could be impaired and a field test could reveal the driver is in fact under the influence.

Driving Under the Speed Limit – In an effort to avoid being detected by the police, the drunk driver will drive carefully. In fact, they drive so careful that they tend to go several miles under the speed limit in an effort to get to where they are going safely. Usually if an officer sees a vehicle traveling for some distance driving 10 mph under the limit, they will try to get the driver to pull off to the side of the road.

Swerving In and Out – The driver who is under the influence has trouble keeping the steering wheel straight, so the car tends to swerve in and out on the road.

Drifting – Drifting occurs when the drunk driver begin to fall asleep and the car slowly veers off to the side until they snap awake and pull the vehicle back on the road. In many DUI cases, the car will drift very close to going off the road before the driver corrects, and this occurs many times until the officer pulls the car over.

Braking Erratically – The drunk driver is so focused on keeping the car in between the lane markers that they often lose the ability to brake correctly. Since all their focus is on the steering wheel, it becomes a serious challenge to gently depress the brake pedal when trying to slow down the vehicle. The result, the car appears to braking erratically and alerts the officer this may need further investigation.

Driving Without Headlight On – The drunk driver is unable to go through the normal checklist before starting the car, and more alarmingly, they will then drive with the headlights off and don’t realize it is an issue. This is a deadly situation because other drivers can not see a vehicle heading towards them and have no time to react. In this instance, and officer will quickly try to get the driver to bring the vehicle to a stop to investigate.

Slower Response to Traffic Signals – The drunk driver sees everything in slow motion. It doesn’t matter if it is a traffic signal or a stop sign, the drunk driver tends to have a slower response to these warning signs. With traffic lights, many drunk drivers will blow right through red lights because they simply didn’t see or have the reaction time to reach the brake pedal in time.

It is important to understand that although the police officers use these driving patterns as a reason to stop potential drunk motorists, further investigation is needed by the officer. These driving patterns give the officers reasonable cause to stop the vehicle and investigate further.