In order to be pulled over by a police officer, the officer must have a reasonable suspicion that the driver has committed a traffic infraction, or a crime. The majority of traffic infractions in Washington State are listed under RCW 46.61. The most common infractions in a DUI case are stops for speeding, failing to use turn signals, or weaving in or out of the lane. But the stop can also be for a more minimal offense, such as a burnt out license plate light. In some DUI offenses, the police officer does not make the stop, and instead is just approaching the driver, who already has stopped. This would be the situation if the person crashed their car, got a flat tire, or had other mechanical issues with the vehicle. The law allows the police to make contact with the driver in these situations for community caretaking purposes.
After making the stop, and contacting the driver, the officer is trained to ask if the driver is aware of the reason for the stop (in hopes of getting the driver to confess to it). The officer then request license, registration, and proof of insurance, which you are required to provide under RCW 46.61.020. Not only is the officer requesting this information to check for warrants and a valid license, they want to give a driver a task that is difficult to perform if impaired. The officer will then ask if the person had anything to drink. If the officer suspects impairment, they will ask the driver to exit the vehicle, and will be watching to see if the driver has any difficulty with this task.
Once outside the vehicle, the officer will ask the driver if they would like to perform the voluntary Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs). The tests are voluntary, meaning the officer cannot coerce the person to take the tests. And the tests are standardized by the National Highways Traffic and Safety Administrations (NHTSA). So they are supposed to be demonstrated and scored the same way by all police officers in the country. The three standardized tests are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, the Walk and Turn, and the One Leg Stand. The Washington State Patrol’s web cite has the manuals on how to demonstrate and perform the tests, and offers an excellent analysis of the tests.
After completion of the SFSTs, the officer may has the driver to submit to a Preliminary Breath Test (PBT). Like the SFSTs, this test if voluntary. The PBT assists the officer in the decision to arrest the person. But the PBT is not admissible in trial against the driver, per WAC 448-15-020.
After completion of the SFSTs, if they are performed, and the PBT, if it is performed, the officer must decide whether they have probable cause to arrest the driver. If the officer arrests the driver, the officer must then advise of the driver of their Constitutional Rights, or Miranda rights, per CrRLJ 3.1.
Some police officer’s have vehicles equipped with video. The video can record the basis for the vehicle stop, as well as the person’s performance on the SFSTs. The in car video also records sound, so if the officer fails to advise you of your rights, it will be on the recording. It is important to make a request for these videos, and other evidence, right way. Otherwise, there is a chance the government could delete the video to make more space on their servers.
While the majority of DUI arrests are for people who blow over the legal limit of .08, some people get arrested and charged with DUI, even if their breath test is well below .08. If you look at the DUI statute in Washington State, RCW 46.61.502, you can be convicted of DUI if you are under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or any drug, or the combined influence of these substances. In other words, if the officer believes you are impaired, you will be arrested and charge for DUI regardless of your breath test level.