Sobering Thoughts (Citizen’s Police Academy #8)


Section 11:501(a) of the Illinois Penal Code sets down the criteria for Driving Under the Influence (DUI).  Interestingly enough, you do not have to be driving to be charged.  The point is if you have physical control of the vehicle or in a position to exert that control, you can be charged.  A couple of years ago, when Tony LaRussa was still managing the St. Louis Cardinals, he was found near the team’s spring training location asleep behind the wheel of his car on the side of the road.  The officer who found him did the proper field sobriety and breathalyzer tests and discovered he was legally impaired.  He was cited with DUI, even though he’d been asleep.

The law sets out six criteria for being charged with DUI.  The first is a breathalyzer reading of .08 or more.  The others cover being under the influence of:

  • Alcohol
  • Intoxicating compounds
  • A drug or combo of drugs
  • Alcohol and other drugs or intoxicating compounds
  • Any amount of illegal drug

While the first and second may seem the same, the breathalyzer gives a specific reading while being under the influence of alcohol is a subjective charge based on the officer’s observations as well as a field sobriety test.  For instance, driving at night without your headlights on or stopping at a green light suggests you’re under the influence.  You can actually be charged under both section one and section two at the same time.

“Intoxicating compounds” was the final item added to the list, to cover huffing and sniffing.  For the fourth and fifth items, the drugs involved do not need to be illegal.  If you take a drug that includes the caution not to operate heavy machinery and then drive, that could result in a DUI conviction.  It also covers if you’re taking multiple prescription or over-the-counter drugs that could cause impairment when taken together or with alcohol.  The last item is if any illegal drug shows up in a blood test.  You may not have used a drug like pot for weeks, but it can stay in your system upwards of a month.  Test positive, and you’re charged with DUI.

Field Sobriety

Of all the police agencies, the one that deals most often with DUI is the State Police.  They patrol the Interstates and the highways.  Every state trooper’s patrol car is equipped with a working audio and visual recording system.  (If it’s not working, the patrol car is taken out of service.)  The F.S.T. is recorded to be played in court.

When a trooper approaches a car, they’re using their senses – sight, smell, and hearing – right from the start.  They might see an open booze container or huffing paraphernalia in the car, or they might observe the driver weaving in the seat.  They try to detect the odor of alcohol, and they listen to the driver’s speech patterns.  The officer is like a poker player during these stops.  They’re watching for tells on the part of the driver.

There’s also method to how they talk to the driver.  For instance, the trooper asks to see both the driver’s license and proof of insurance.  They don’t just wanting to see those items; they also are watching how the driver handles a complex request.  Does the driver remember one but forgets the other, or produces the registration instead of the proof of insurance, or do they fumble with getting out the items?  Those are all indicators of possible intoxication, and a reason to do the Field Sobriety Test.

The officer will bring the driver to a safe place where they can be recorded by the cruiser’s system.  The Field Sobriety Test is a standardized, three-part test of intoxication that is administered by the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).  The officer describes for the driver what he wants them to do, and also demonstrates it.

Test 1 – Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN):  For this the officer will hold a pen about 12-15 inches in front of the driver’s face.  The officer moves the pen out to the right and then to the left, watching the driver’s eyes.  Normally the eyes will track the pen smoothly until the pen gets out to the peripheral of vision, and then there’s a jerky movement.  However, under the influence of alcohol, the eyes will jerk much earlier.  If the officer suspects the driver’s under the influence of marijuana, he uses a vertical version of this test.  For pot, the eyes jerk when moving up and down.

Test 2 – Walk and Turn: The driver takes nine heel-to-toe steps along a straight line, turns, and takes nine heel-to-toe steps back to the starting point.  The officer is watching for the driver not keeping their balance while receiving the instructions, starting before the instructions are complete, raising their arms for balance, stopping while walking to regain balance, falling, taking too many or too few steps, making an incorrect turn, or stepping off the line.  (This test isn’t used if the person is over the age of 65.)

Test 3 – Stand on One Foot:  The driver raises one foot up about six inches and then counts – a thousand and one, a thousand and two, and so on.  The officer times this for 30 seconds.  The four indicators of impairment are swaying, hopping to maintain balance, raising arms, or putting the foot down before 30 seconds are up.

Each of these tests on their own are about 70-80% accurate for indicating impairment.  Taken together, though, they’re around 95% accurate.

The final step would a preliminary or evidentiary breathalyzer test.  The difference between the two is whether the breathalyzer is hooked up to a printer.  If it is, the results can be submitted in court.  Some troopers have cruisers equipped with printers so they can do the evidentiary test right there on the side of the road.  The breathalyzer is then administered again 20 minutes later to prevent a false positive reading.

DUI arrests are labor-intensive for the police.  It will take approximately 88 minutes from when the driver is pulled over to when they are arrested.  Processing all the paperwork can take up to 8 hours.  However, getting the driver off the road before an innocent bystander is injured or killed makes the time well worth it for the trooper.

About colborne55

I'm a author of mysteries, a book reviewer for Suspense Magazine, and as the Omnivorous Cinephile, I review movies.
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