Personal Contact and the Importance of Challenging Evidence

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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Police pulling over woman in car
After discussing the first phase of DUI investigations – the “vehicle in motion” phase – in our previous blog post, it’s time to delve into the second phase: the “personal contact” phase. In this phase, the police officer makes face-to-face contact with the driver to gather further evidence of impairment. This is a critical stage of the investigation, as it can directly impact the outcome of your DUI case. An experienced DUI attorney will know how to challenge the evidence collected during this phase and may be able to get your case dismissed or resolved favorably through negotiations.

The Personal Contact Phase: Observations and Interactions

During 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 Observations

An 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 Techniques

Common 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 Screening

Even 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 Vehicle

An 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 Phase

A 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.


Phase 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 DUIcriminal 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.