Most DUI cases are initiated in a similar manner here in Florida. A police officer will claim to observe a driver violate some traffic law and then will pull that driver over. While the police officer will begin to check the driver’s license and consider writing a traffic ticket, if the police officer believes the driver is impaired from alcohol or drugs at some point, the police officer will likely abandon the traffic ticket process and initiate a DUI investigation. This will involve asking the driver questions such as where he/she has been and whether he/she has had anything to drink. This will likely transition into a request to perform field sobriety exercises. If the driver agrees to submit to them and the police officer subjectively determines the driver failed (which is likely since the police officer, who is the sole judge of the driver’s performance, already believes the driver to be impaired), then an arrest for DUI is likely.
A police officer is permitted to turn a routine traffic stop into a DUI investigation if there is specific evidence that the driver is impaired and the process does not take too long. Any time a police officer keeps a driver for a traffic ticket or criminal investigation, it is considered a detention under the law. A police officer can detain a person but only so long as necessary for a lawful purpose. If the purpose of the detention is to address a traffic violation, the police officer can only keep the driver for as long as it normally would take to write a traffic ticket. If there is specific evidence of a criminal violation, i.e., a DUI, the police officer can only keep the driver long enough for a normal DUI investigation and only so long as there continues to be evidence of a DUI.
As an example, in a DUI case just south of Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer pulled a vehicle over for a traffic violation. The police officer began addressing the traffic violation but then believed that the driver was impaired from alcohol. Instead of initiating a DUI investigation, the police officer called for another officer to come to the scene to handle the DUI investigation. Sometimes, a police officer will call for backup or another officer who is better trained to investigate DUI’s to take over a situation where the officer believes the driver is impaired. In this case, it took about 15 minutes for the backup officer to arrive and start the DUI investigation. The initial officer did nothing during that time, and the driver was left to wait for the second officer. Once the second officer arrived, he pursued the DUI allegation and ultimately arrested the driver for DUI.
The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress all of the evidence that was obtained after the second police officer arrived. The criminal defense attorney was successful, because the court agreed that the defendant was unlawfully detained. The police did not have a legal basis to detain the driver initially and then for another 15 minutes to wait for the second officer without continuing to develop evidence of a crime being committed. In other words, the police are allowed to detain a person while there is a continuing investigation that is producing legitimate evidence. The police cannot hold a person for an unreasonable period of time based on a suspicion of criminal activity that might be supported with evidence later. As a result, the DUI case was thrown out.