The Personal Contact Phase: Observations and InteractionsDuring the personal contact phase, the officer will approach your vehicle and engage in conversation with you. They will observe your demeanor, speech, and physical appearance for signs of impairment. Officers are taught to note potential signs of impairment based on what they see, hear, and smell.
See, Hear, Smell ObservationsAn officer could see signs like: – Bloodshot eyes – Soiled or disheveled clothing – Fumbling with license or insurance – Alcohol containers or drug paraphernalia – Other unusual actions An officer could hear signs like: – Slurred speech – Admissions of drinking – Inconsistent responses – Unusual statements – Abusive language Finally, an officer could smell signs like: – Odor of alcohol – Odor of marijuana – Cover up odors like cologne, mouthwash, or gum During the personal contact phase, a well trained officer will be attempting to observe and later document and describe any of these clues that a driver might be impaired. In addition, the officer will be using the concept of divided attention to assess whether to go further in his investigation by asking the driver to step out of the car.
Divided Attention TechniquesCommon divided attention techniques used during the personal contact phase include the officer: – Asking for two things at the same time – Asking interrupting or distracting questions – Asking unusual questions One example used in an officer’s training is asking for license and registration simultaneously. The officer is then taught to look for alleged signs of impairment including: – Producing only one of the two requested documents – Producing the wrong document – Failing to see the document when it is in plain sight – Fumbling or dropping items – Having difficulty retrieving documents using fingertips Officers may also begin asking questions while a driver’s attention is divided, like asking where the driver is coming from while they are still searching for license and registration. They will be alert to drivers who: – Ignore their question and continue searching for documents – Answers the question but forget to resume looking for the documents – Gives answers that don’t make sense for the question asked
Medical ScreeningEven before asking a driver out of the car, officers should be alert to potential medical conditions that may be confused with impairment. They are taught to begin gather this information by asking questions like: – Do you have any physical disabilities? – Are you sick or injured? – Are you diabetic? – Are you on any medications?
Tests Performed In the VehicleAn officer may ask a driver to perform particular tasks before asking for the standardized sobriety tests that are performed outside the vehicle. These tasks include: – Reciting a portion of the alphabet, for instance, starting at F and continuing to R – Counting in reverse, for instance, count backward from 68 to 53 – Finger tap counting – This is a task where the officer asks the driver to touch the tip of each finger to the tip of the thumb while counting forward and backward, for instance, one, two, three, four, four, three, two, one. The Exit If the officer suspects the driver may be impair he will ask the driver to step out of the vehicle to continue his investigation. During the exit phase, the officer will be looking for signs of impairment to bolster the arrest decision. Potential signs might include: – Difficulty opening the door – Leaving the vehicle in gear – Leaning against the vehicle – Using the vehicle for balance – Climbing out of the vehicle
Challenging Evidence from the Personal Contact PhaseA skilled DUI attorney will scrutinize the evidence collected during the personal contact phase to identify any inconsistencies or weaknesses. They may challenge the officer’s observations, questioning their training or experience in identifying signs of impairment. Additionally, they can argue that the tests were improperly administered or influenced by external factors. A successful challenge to the evidence from the personal contact phase can weaken the prosecution’s case and potentially lead to a dismissal or more favorable resolution.
ConclusionPhase two of a DUI investigation – the personal contact phase – is crucial in determining the strength of the evidence against you. An experienced DUI attorney can challenge the observations and field sobriety tests from this phase, potentially leading to a dismissal or favorable outcome for your case. In our next blog post, we will discuss the third and final phase of DUI investigations: the arrest decision and chemical testing phase, as well as the importance of challenging chemical test results. Stay tuned!
Attorney At Law, Managing Partner
Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUI, criminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.