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DUI through a Defender’s eyes

  • Published
  • Airman 1st Class Bonnie Grantham
One quiet night while on shift, a security forces patrol leader and her partner witness a car rolling through the stop sign at a nearby intersection. With vehicle lights flashing, they initiate a traffic stop.

After approaching the vehicle and requesting the required documentation – government I.D., driver’s license, registration and insurance card -- the patrol leader notices the odor of alcohol wafting out of the vehicle. The driver’s speech sounds slurred as he clumsily fumbles for his government I.D., which shows him to be an Airman. The defender suspects the Airman has been drinking and driving.

The patrol’s first course of action will be to ask the driver to step out of the vehicle for a field sobriety test (FST). There are three portions to an FST that the subject must pass.

“The different tests that we do in security forces are horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), the walk and turn and the one-leg stand,” said Senior Airman Caleb Green, a 319th Security Forces Squadron base defense operations control (BDOC) controller. “Those tests are approved for use here and security forces-wide.”

HGN is defined as an involuntary jerking of the eye that occurs naturally as the eyes gaze to the side. The patrol will move a pen side-to-side in front of the subject’s face at eye level and ask the subject to follow the pen with his eyes to test for HGN. Although HGN can be caused by astigmatisms, alcohol causes exaggerated jerking of the eyes as they shift from left to right.

The walk and turn test has the suspect walk heel-to-toe in a straight line. They are instructed to take nine steps in one direction, then turn around and walk nine steps in the opposite direction.

Finally, the one leg stand test requires the subject to stand on one leg for 30 seconds while he counts out loud by thousands (one-one thousand, two-one thousand, etc.).

“We give very specific instructions for the tests so that they will have a standard to go off of,” Green said. “If they deviate from it at all, then that’s a point against them. If they get so many points against them, then they fail the test and that’s more probable cause that they’re intoxicated.”

According to Green, during the FST, the patrol leader and their partner will observe the subject and grade him or her on his performance. If the subject passes all portions of the FST, then he has proven to be sober and may be released with no more than a citation for running a stop sign.

However, he may only have to fail one portion of the test in order for there to be probable cause to place him in custody on suspicion of driving under the influence and to conduct further alcohol testing, said Green. For example, to confirm the FST assessment, the patrol member can use a portable breath test (PBT) at the scene to test the subject’s breath alcohol content (BrAC).

Green further explained that when the subject is apprehended, he will be taken to BDOC for further investigation. There he will be asked to sign an Implied Consent Form stating that he gives consent to draw blood, breath and urine samples. Federal law states that everyone who drives on a military installation gives implied consent to testing, therefore refusal to give consent can result in additional adverse.

The next step in the process is to test his BrAC with the Intoxilyzer 8000, a much more specific breath test than the PBT that is used in the field, said Green. If the results of the Intoxilyzer 8000 show the subject to have a BrAC over .08 - technically over the legal driving limit- then the patrol will read the Airman his rights and issue an AF Form 1408 for DUI.

Regardless of whether an alleged DUI occurred on or off the installation, the Airman’s on-base driving privileges will be preliminarily suspended by the 319th Mission Support Group commander for six months pending resolution of any civil court or UCMJ action against the member. A member found guilty of a DUI offense faces serious punishment, and a mandatory one-year revocation of on-base driving privileges.

“Security forces members are notified of the Airman’s driving status through a system called Defense Biometric Identification System (DBIDS) as well as the SRBW (suspension, revocation, barred and warrant) roster,” said Staff Sgt. Kyle Johnston, the 319th SFS NCO-in-charge of reports and analysis.

DBIDS is a hand-held scanning device used to scan the I.D. of an individual entering the base, said Johnston. If the individual has a driving revocation on record, then it will show up in DBIDS. A person caught driving while being on a driving revocation will have an additional year added to their revocation.

The SRBW roster is another form to keep track of suspensions, revocations and barments. In addition, all completed DUI actions will be entered into SFMIS, which will annotate the violation on the member’s driving record, sharing the information with the member’s driver’s licensing state of issue.

Processing a DUI is not a one-day task. This process takes time out of security forces members’ daily jobs, hinders commanders and first sergeants involved, and occupies much of the Airman’s time.

“I don’t know that DUIs will ever come to a stop,” Green said. “The steps that have been taken to show the individual repercussions that come with a DUI are helping, I believe. It’s just important to have a little bit of common sense and don’t drink and drive.”