What is the Difference Between a Traffic Investigation and a DUI Investigation?
If you have ever had the misfortune of being involved in a traffic accident, you knowthat the process can be stressful and traumatic. In most cases, a police officer or crash investigator will respond to the scene and conduct an investigation. When called to the scene of an accident, the officer is required to write an accident report. Witnesses are not required to stay at the scene and report to the officer. If the officer at the scene suspects that either driver is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, he may perform a series of tests to confirm or dispel his suspicion. In some cases, where the accident results in serious bodily injury or death, a driver suspected of being under the influence of drugs/alcohol may be compelled to have blood drawn to determine their respective degree of impairment. Fla. Stat § 316.645 gives police officers the power to make an arrest pursuant to their investigation. The only caveat to this authority is that a law enforcement officer is present at the scene of the accident to conduct an investigation. For instance, an officer may allow the suspect to receive medical treatment for injuries sustained in the crash and then effectuate the arrest at a later time. It does not matter how much time elapsed between the accident and the arrest, so long as the statute of limitations for the alleged crime has not run.
Florida has enacted § 316.066(4), serves to further individual liberties at an accident site. This statutory provision is applicable when you are at the scene of an accident and are answering the officer’s questions. The provision, in pertinent part, states that your answers to the officer’s questions in regard to his accident investigation cannot be used against you in a criminal proceeding, unless you have offered the information voluntarily. Accordingly, an officer may not question you under the guise of a traffic accident investigation in order to further his interests in a possible DUI investigation. If the officer suspects that you may be intoxicated, he must began a separate and distinct investigation into that matter and the previously answered questions pertaining to the accident will be considered privileged. The Fourth District Court of Appeal goes into more detail in West v. State.
A DUI investigation occurs when a police officer witnesses a suspect in actual possession of a vehicle, and that person is suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A law enforcement officer may suspect that you are driving under the influence if they smell an odor of drugs or alcohol or if they witness erratic driving. In either case, when the police officer has probable cause to believe that you are driving while impaired beyond your normal faculties, he may ask you to perform field sobriety tests. Your faculties include but are not limited to: your ability to see, hear, smell, walk, talk, perceive depth, or any other daily function that would be improved but for your alcohol/drug consumption. If the officer determines by his investigation that you are under the influence of drugs/alcohol, he may place you under arrest. The officer would then take you to the county facility where he would formally inform you of your rights and request that you have your blood alcohol content (BAC) evaluated with the Breathalyzer machine. If you submit to a Breathalyzer test at the station, depending on the results, may give rise to a number of presumptions:
- .05 or less, there is a presumption that you are not impaired
- .05—.08, there is no presumption at all
- .08 and higher, it is clear evidence of impairment
It is important for you to know that although the environment may be intimidating, you have the right to refuse roadside sobriety tests in most cases. If you have consumed alcohol, the roadside tests and Breathalyzer test results may be damaging evidence against you. Kenneth Padowitz is the leading DUI Attorney in South Florida. Contact our law firm for a free consultation and find out how to best protect your rights.