If a law enforcement officer suspects that you have been driving while intoxicated (DWI), they will need more than just their suspicions in order to make an arrest. For this reason, they will start to look for clues or various types of evidence that will help them establish probable cause once an initial traffic stop has been conducted. This could include anything from red or watery eyes to the smell of alcohol on your breath.
It is also important to note that you could be arrested for DWI after being pulled over for an offense that is entirely unrelated – including something as minor as a broken tail light. However, the officer's reason for pulling you over must be legitimate. They cannot conduct random traffic stops in the hope that they will catch a drunk driver, but again, their reason for pulling you over does not have to be related to DWI.
Sign #1: The Smell of Alcohol on Your Breath
Once you have been stopped by a law enforcement officer, whether for reasons related to drunk driving or not, they will start to look for signs that you could be intoxicated. One of the first signs that an officer will check for is the smell of alcohol on your breath. While this would give them probable cause to order a breathalyzer test, the accuracy of this evidence has been called into question on more than one occasion.
In fact, one study asked 20 police officers to smell the breath of 14 different volunteers. Using six-inch tubes, the officers smelled each volunteer's breath and tried to determine what type of alcohol they had consumed, as well as how intoxicated they actually were. Not one of the officers was able to do so. The conclusion? Just because you have been drinking does not necessarily mean that you are over the legal limit.
Sign #2: Red, Watery or "Glazed Over" Eyes
Another sign that law enforcement officers are trained to look for is red or watery eyes. While this could be an indication that the driver is intoxicated, the effect doesn't always fit the cause. Red or watery eyes could be caused by numerous different factors, including legitimate medical conditions. Irritation from wind or dust, as well as physical fatigue, could also cause your eyes to become red, watery or even glazed over.
Sign #3: Open Containers in Your Vehicle
Another sign that a police officer will look for once you have been stopped for suspected DWI is open containers in your vehicle, or even the presence of drugs. If they see what looks like a beer can underneath your seat, for example, they would have probable cause to conduct a search of your vehicle. This type of evidence can be hard to disprove, but it also doesn't establish that you have been driving while under the influence.
The only thing that the officer would be able to prove at this point is that you have an open container of alcohol in your vehicle – which is a significantly less serious crime than drunk driving. However, if a law enforcement officer does not have a legitimate reason to search your vehicle, only suspicions, you do not have to consent to the search. You can politely decline, unless they have probable cause and/or a valid warrant.
Sign #4: Slurred or Incoherent Speech
One of the most telling signs of alcohol-related intoxication is slurred or incoherent speech. Since alcohol consumption affects both your cognitive and physical motor functions, slurred speech could indicate that the driver is under the influence; however, that does not change the fact that this evidence is subjective. For this reason, you should not hesitate to fight your charges with the help of an experienced attorney.
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If you were arrested for DWI in Texas based on any of the reasons listed above, you may still have time to fight your charges. As an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Fort Worth, I may be able to prove that the officer did not have probable cause to stop you in the first place, or that they did not have reason to believe that you were driving while intoxicated – which could result in a dismissal or reduction of your charges.
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