In order for a police officer in North Carolina to make a DWI stop, he must have reasonable suspicion that the driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs. Police officers use a variety of factors to establish reasonable suspicion such as erratic changes in speed, leaving one’s lane of travel, or making wide turns. Once the officer pulls over the vehicle for a DWI stop, he will begin his assessment of the driver to determine if probable cause exists for an arrest. This assessment includes a variety of pre-exit observations and questions in addition to taking field sobriety tests.
Pre-exit Observations, Questions, and Taking Field Sobriety Tests
When the police officer walks up to the driver’s window, the officer is watching for signs that the driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs. Signs of impairment include, but are not limited to, slurred speech, lack of coordination, strong odor of alcohol, and bloodshot eyes. The officer will also ask the driver questions such as, “Where are you coming from and where are you going?” “Have you been drinking?” “How much have you had to drink?” The officer may ask the driver to recite the alphabet or count backwards as part of his assessment.
Based on his observations and conversation with the driver, if the officer believes the driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs, he will request that the driver exit the vehicle to begin taking field sobriety tests. The HGN Test (an eye test), the One-Leg Stand Test, and the Walk-and-Turn Test are the standardized field sobriety tests used by police officers in North Carolina. The pre-exit observations, questions, and field sobriety tests are all designed to provide the officer with evidence to support probable cause for a DWI arrest.
You can respectfully decline to answer any questions or take field sobriety tests; however, you do not have the right to have an attorney present before taking field sobriety tests. Furthermore, if you refuse to take the field sobriety tests, you will likely be arrested anyway but by not taking field sobriety tests, you are not providing additional evidence of your impairment.
Chemical Tests After a DWI Arrest
North Carolina is an “implied consent” state meaning that when you apply for and receive a driver’s license, you are consenting to a chemical test (i.e. breathalyzer or blood test) if you are arrested for driving while impaired. However, according to G.S. 20-16.2(a)(6) the test can be delayed for 30 minutes to allow the individual to call an attorney for advice or request a witness be present during the testing (the witness can be an attorney). Therefore, while there is no legal standing for you to request an attorney for taking field sobriety tests, you can have an attorney present for chemical tests following a DWI arrest.
The individual must state specifically that he is exercising his right to call an attorney and have a witness present. This is advisable as it delays the test, which may give your body time to metabolize more of the alcohol.
Contact an Experienced Jacksonville DWI Attorney
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