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What signs of alcohol do police look for during a traffic stop?

The police may be tipped off that a driver may have been drinking even before making a traffic stop. The way the car is being driven and where the driver is coming from could indicate possible drinking. During a traffic stop, the police can look for other signs of alcohol to determine if the driver may be under the influence.  

Unfortunately for drivers in California, the “signs” of alcohol impairment that police look for can be caused by other reasons which are totally unrelated to alcohol. Drivers who have been accused of drinking and driving in the East Bay should contact the DUI lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

Signs of Alcohol Impairment During a Traffic Stop

As soon as the police or CHP officer approaches a vehicle, the officer is looking for any suspicious evidence or activity. In a DUI case, the officer may be looking inside the vehicle for any signs of alcohol consumption, including bottles of wine, beer, or liquor, or open cans of beer.

Smell of Alcohol During a Traffic Stop

One of the most obvious signs of an impaired driver is the smell of alcohol on the driver's breath. The smell of alcohol or alcoholic drinks can linger in the mouth after consumption. When alcohol is absorbed by the body, the alcohol molecules travel through the lungs. This is what allows breath testing devices like the Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) device to estimate the driver's blood alcohol content (BAC).

Drivers may not notice that their breath smells of alcohol. Drivers may also try and cover up the smell of alcohol by using mouthwash, gum, mints, body spray, or smoking cigarettes. These methods may not work in covering up the smell of booze.

Alternatively, a driver may smell like alcohol even if he or she is not impaired. Drinking one beer may make a driver's breath smell similar to someone who was drinking beer all day. Going to a sporting event, busy club, or concert also carries the risk of someone spilling beer or a drink on another person. A spilled drink on someone's shirt can make it smell like that person was drinking even if the individual is totally sober.

Other Physical Symptoms of Possible Alcohol Impairment

There are a number of other physical signs of possible alcohol impairment that police are trained to look for during a traffic stop. Unfortunately, these “signs” can be caused by any number of reasons that are not related to driving under the influence. Signs of drinking that police look for include:

  • Bloodshot or watery eyes;
  • Drooping eyelids;
  • Slurred speech;
  • Speaking loudly then quiet;
  • Slow response to questioning;
  • Sweating;
  • Dazed look; or
  • Clumsy or uncoordinated movement.

Some of these signs can be caused by nervousness, medical condition, physical disability, or even the weather. The police are not medical professionals and cannot diagnose a driver. An experienced criminal defense attorney understands how to challenge the police report and officer testimony to shed doubt on the officer's conclusion that the driver was impaired.

Chatting to Look for Intoxication

The police also ask certain questions to try and catch drivers in a contradiction or lie. When the police believe the driver is lying, this may help give them probable cause to think the driver may be impaired by alcohol or drugs. If a driver lied about where he or she was going, the driver may also be lying about drinking.

For example, the police may have started following a driver after he or she was leaving a bar. If the police ask where the driver was coming from and the driver does not mention the bar, the police may believe the driver is hiding the fact that the driver may have been drinking at the bar. Statements the police may be looking for include:

  • Driving to or from a place that is closed;
  • Not admitting to coming from a bar or restaurant;
  • Driving in the wrong direction;
  • Changing the number of drinks reported; or
  • Changes in the driver's story.

Suspicion of Drinking is Not Proof of Drunk Driving

Instead of just accepting the police and prosecutor's version of the story, you have the right to take your case to court. Your East Bay criminal defense lawyer can use science and the law to challenge the police officer's probable cause and question the chemical test results. If the testing devices were not properly calibrated, cleaned, or the officer didn't use them correctly, the evidence should not be used against you.

Talk to your East Bay criminal defense attorney about ways to fight a criminal DUI conviction and keep your license to drive. Contact Alameda and Contra Costa County DUI lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

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