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What Do Police Look for When Investigating a Possible DUI in Virginia?

Aug. 16, 2019

When a police officer pulls you over in Virginia, whether it's day or night, it's often for a violation of a traffic offense. Sometimes this simple traffic stop can turn into something much worse, like an arrest for a DUI. This often happens when the officer smells alcohol in the vehicle or on your person or notices other clues that may lead him or her to believe you are unlawfully intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle.

When the officer suspects a DUI, an investigation commences. There are certain indicators an officer looks for before he or she requests you to perform a field sobriety test or give a breath sample via a preliminary breathalyzer. Here's an overview of what these signs are.

Appearance Indicators of Intoxication

The first thing a police officer will notice is your appearance. Before you even speak a word, the way you look could suggest intoxication. Trained police officers will look for the following appearance indicators:

  • bloodshot, glassy, or watery eyes

  • droopy eyelids

  • flushed face

  • dazed look

  • blank stare

  • twitching or body tremors

  • disheveled clothing.

Of course, any of the above appearances could be the result of other things, like a medical or physical condition. If you experience any of the above due to a condition you are aware of, be sure to advise the officer of the same. It may or may not make a difference, but at least you can be on the record for stating it.

Behavior Indicators of Intoxication

There is certain behavior that may inform a police officer's suspicion that you are unlawfully intoxicated by a chemical substance. This behavior can be broken into three categories: physical behavior, speech, and attitude.

Physical Behavior

  • swaying, staggering, or stumbling

  • unable to stand up straight

  • unable to sit up properly or slouching

  • restless or fidgety

  • crying, sullen, or moody

  • sudden extreme changes in behavior

  • overly animated or loud

  • drowsy or falling asleep

  • unable to maintain eye contact or focus

  • disoriented, agitated, or anxious

  • grinding teeth

  • vomiting

  • excessive sweating


  • slurred speech

  • loud or noise speech

  • sudden change in speech tone

  • too fast or too slow speech

  • repetitive statements

  • irrational statements


  • argumentative

  • aggressive or belligerent

  • obnoxious

  • boisterous

Trained police officers will consider this behavior in light of the overall circumstances to determine if a DUI investigation should ensue.

Other Indicators of Intoxication

There are other indicators as well, like the smell of alcohol, marijuana, or other chemicals on your person or in the car. There may also be an open bottle in the vehicle, which itself is enough to warrant an arrest regardless of whether or not you are illegally intoxicated.

The Key Takeaway on Appearances & Virginia DUIS

It is important to remember, again, that there may be other reasons why you exhibit any of the above signs. It is also important to remember that these indicators are observations, and as such, are completely subjective.

Unfortunately, in the State of Virginia, an officer can arrest you just for appearing impaired. Say, you refuse to perform field sobriety tests (because you are not required by law to do them) or you refuse to provide a breath sample (which can mean tougher penalties or longer driver's license suspension), the officer may arrest you on appearances and then take you into custody to get a breath or blood sample after a warrant is obtained.

Next time you get behind a wheel, regardless of whether you have had a drink or not, pay attention to your appearance and behavior because something simple can lead to big problems. And if you are arrested for a DUI in Virginia, contact an experienced DUI attorney in Charlottesville to help you.