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How Are Cops Trained in DUI Detection?

Law enforcement officers in California get training to help them identify drivers under the influence of alcohol and drugs. When a driver gets pulled over, the police are looking for possible signs of impairment. This can include obvious things like an open container in the car or the smell of alcohol on the driver's breath. However, police can look for other signs of impairment, including eye movement and how they respond to instructions. 

DUI detection is part of law enforcement training but training does not guarantee a police officer is correct in how they classify a driver. A lot of the DUI detection methods are subjective and could be influenced by other factors, including stress, the roadside location, and the experience of the police officer. 

It is important to understand how police officers are trained in order to identify problems with the evidence gathered in the case. This training and information can help your East Bay DUI defense attorney build a strong case to keep you out of jail and save your license.   

NHTSA DUI Detection and SFST Course

The standard training program for law enforcement officers is the Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST) course. The SFST course was developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in order to provide a standard evaluation for roadside impairment. Also known as the DUI Detection course, this program is generally a 16-hour classroom instruction course. 

According to the California Highway Patrol (CHP), the course includes instruction on: 

  • NHTSA Studies
  • General Deterrence
  • Physiology
  • Vehicle Code Review
  • Detection as a Three-Phase Process
  • Processing the Arrested Subject
  • Courtroom Testimony
  • SFST Instruction & Proficiency Testing
  • Report Writing

Three Phases of Detection

There are typically three phases of DUI detection and observation for police officers: 

  • Phase One: Vehicle in motion (observe the driver operating the vehicle and stopping the vehicle).
  • Phase Two: Personal contact (observe and speak with the driver, and evaluate the driver's exit from the vehicle and walking)
  • Phase Three: Pre-arrest screening (administer SFSTs to determine impairment and administer a Preliminary Alcohol Screening device test)

Three Roadside Tests

There have been several roadside tests used over time but the NHTSA generally endorses three SFSTs. The SFSTs for California DUIs include: 

The SFST training explains the test, how to administer the test, and what to look for as a sign of impairment. For example, signs of impairment can include: 

  • Starting the activity before they have the instructions
  • Unable to keep balance
  • Using arms for balance

The HGN eye test involves instructing the driver to follow a moving object, like a finger or pen, with their eyes. The officer is evaluating the involuntary jerking of the eyes as the eyes gaze to the side (horizontal gaze nystagmus). The jerking of the eyes is involuntary, people are unaware that it is happening, and are not able to control it. The police are looking for 3 clues: 

  1. The Lack of Smooth Pursuit - The eyes can be observed to jerk or "bounce" as they follow a smoothly moving stimulus.
  2. Distinct and Sustained Nystagmus At Maximum Deviation - When the eye is held at maximum deviation for a minimum of four seconds and continues to jerk toward the side.
  3. Onset of Nystagmus Prior To 45 Degrees - The point at which the eye is first seen jerking. If the jerking begins prior to 45 degrees, the police will determine the person has a BAC above 0.08%

How Reliable Are SFSTs?

The OLS and WAT tests are known as “divided attention” tests. This means that drivers have to divide their attention between mental tasks and physical tasks at the same time. It may be more difficult for an impaired driver to multitask while listening to instructions, remembering the instructions, counting steps or seconds, and maintaining balance. However, there are other reasons why someone would “fail” these tests, including: 

  • Uneven roadways
  • Bright or flashing lights in their eyes
  • Lack of strength or fitness
  • Medical conditions
  • Poor footwear

Even the training program recognizes that SFSTs can be less than 100% reliable. According to the NHTSA, “We recognize that the SFST's will not always be administered under ideal conditions in the field, because such conditions do not always exist. Even when administered under less than ideal conditions, they will may serve as valid and useful indicators of impairment. Slight variations from the ideal, i.e., the inability to find a perfectly smooth surface at roadside, may have some effect on the evidentiary weight given to the results.”

Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE)

Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) is another training program developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Transportation Safety Institute (TSI). ARIDE is a 16-hour classroom course. According to the CHP, the course consists of: 

  • SFST Review
  • The Seven Major Drug Categories
  • Signs and Symptomology
  • Physiology of Drugs
  • Drug Combinations
  • Courtroom Testimony
  • Report Writing

In general, ARIDE is supposed to train law enforcement to observe, identify, and articulate the signs of impairment related to drugs, alcohol, or a combination of drugs and alcohol. 

Drug Recognition Expert (DRE)

The Drug Recognition Evaluators (DRE) training is more in-depth and is generally taught as a 7-day program, with DRE Pre-School, DRE 7-Day School, and Field Certification. Course content includes: 

  • Eye Examinations
  • Physiology and Drugs
  • Vital Signs Examinations
  • The Seven Categories of Drugs
  • Drug Reference Sources
  • Interviewing Suspects
  • Case Preparation and Testimony
  • Classifying a Suspect  

To get DRE certification, the law enforcement officer is supposed to “demonstrate a mastery of basic knowledge of drug categories and their effects on the human mind and body and of the basic skills in administering and interpreting the examinations in the DEC Program process.” 

East Bay DUI Defense Lawyer With DUI Detection Training

East Bay DUI defense attorney Lynn Gorelick has been trained in the NHTSA Standardized Field Sobriety Testing, just like California law enforcement. This means she has the training and understanding of what the police are looking for and how they are evaluating impairment. This training can help identify problems with the police officer's probable cause to make an arrest, which could help you avoid a conviction. 

Attorney Lynn Gorelick, with over 39 years of DUI defense experience for drivers in Alameda County and Contra Costa, also has training in the use of a Preliminary Alcohol Screening Device (PAS breath test) and Axion Analytical Laboratories in Blood Analysis for DUI Cases. 

When looking for the right DUI defense lawyer to handle your case, think about whether your attorney has the same kind of training in DUI detection and lab testing to build a strong defense for you and your family. Lynn Gorelick is also familiar with the local law enforcement officers and prosecutors involved. Contact East Bay criminal defense lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

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