What to do if You Get Stopped for a DUI or DWI


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This is a step-by-step guide as to what you should do if you get pulled over for a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) or a DWI (Driving While Impaired). This is not a substitute for using common sense and avoiding behavior that might put you in jeopardy of being stopped for a DUI or a DWI. It is also not a substitute for getting assistance from a qualified, competent attorney. When in doubt, contact your lawyer.

1. Find a safe place to pull over.

Remember, as soon as the police officer decides to pull you over for a DUI or a DWI, he starts making observations that he will put in the police report. To initiate the stop, he has already noted something that he thinks shows you are driving drunk or impaired. You cannot do anything about those observations at this point, but the police report can have a significant impact on the outcome of both your criminal trial and any hearings related to the suspension or revocation of your driver's license. One of the first things the officer will most likely note is how you pull over. If you drive erratically, slow down too abruptly, or pull over in an unsafe location, the officer notes it in the report and it is just one more tick in the drunk or impaired column.

2. Don’t make any sudden or suspicious movements.

Officers are trained to be cautious and to protect themselves, first and foremost. They always approach the car from behind so they have a clear view, and so the driver would have to turn completely around in order to shoot or attack them. So, do not make any sudden movements, do not twist around to watch the officer approach, do not jump out of the car or try to crouch down in embarrassment. In fact, your best bet is to keep your hands on the wheel at 10 and 2 o’clock until the officer approaches your window and asks to see your identification.

3. Be polite.

The obvious reason to treat the officer respectfully is that you are far less likely to be arrested if he believes you are sincerely respectful. If you are rude, insincere, or hostile, the officer is much more likely to take offense, arrest you, and do everything possible to get you convicted, including writing a very incriminating police report. If the officer asks you to step out of the vehicle, you must comply of face the very real possibility of being charged with resisting arrest. Be very helpful and friendly, as though you have nothing better to do than comply with the officer's requests because, frankly, at that moment you do not. Of course, avoid coming off as insincerely helpful or friendly, as that can be just as off-putting as direct sarcasm.

4. Do not answer any potentially incriminating questions, but do not lie.

The anxiety of getting pulled over is something police officers are trained to use against you. In this kind of situation, people are far more likely to incriminate themselves, particularly if they are not telling the truth. You DO have to give your name, license, registration, and insurance information to the police officer, but if the officer asks you if you have been drinking, or how much—and you are concerned that you might incriminate yourself—simply say, “I’m sorry, officer, but I’ve been advised not to answer any questions.” You will almost definitely be put under a lot of pressure at that point, you may be arrested, and you may automatically lose your license, but all of those things can be much less serious than spending time in jail because you incriminated yourself.

If you have had only one or two drinks, you should use your discretion about saying so. With few exceptions, one or two drinks will not put you over the legal limit, but that varies from person to person and drink to drink, so when in doubt, say nothing.

Lying, is never a good idea. If you answer a question, answer it truthfully. If you lie, and the officer knows it, the fact that you lied can, and most likely will, be used against you in court.

5. Refuse a field sobriety test.

You are under no legal obligation to perform a field sobriety test. Field sobriety tests are one of the most effective tools at the officer’s disposal for collecting evidence against you, not because they are reliable indicators of intoxication, but because it gives the officer subjective observations upon which to base his decision that you are intoxicated. Again, refusing a field sobriety test may result in a suspension of your driver's license, but would you rather have a scientific examination say you were not drunk or impaired (and therefore not going to jail for DUI or DWI) or would you rather have a jury hear an hour of testimony from a uniformed police officer about how stinking drunk he subjectively thought you were based on a very unscientific field sobriety test?

6. Refuse a hand-held breathalyzer.

Roadside breathalyzers are notoriously unreliable, and there are countless ways to skew their results. Refusing to “blow” will almost always result in an automatic suspension of your license, but again, that is much less serious than going to jail. So, refuse to blow while on the road. On the other hand, you may be required to submit to a number of other tests including blood draws or a more sophisticated breathalyzer at the police station. If you have been taken into custody and are being required to submit to these tests at the police station, do not refuse or you may be resisting arrest.

7. Take a chemical test at the police station.

You are obligated by law to take a chemical test at the police station. In most states, you can choose between a blood test or breath test. Many DUI lawyers advise people to take the breath tests because they are more unreliable, so their validity can be more effectively attacked in court.

8. Once you have been released, write down everything you can remember about your arrest

The more notes you take about your arrest, the easier it will be for your attorney to fight the charges against you. Fresh memories are often more accurate, so do this as soon as you can. If possible, include the following details in your notes:

*what you were doing and where you were before you drove
*how much you had to drink and what you were drinking
*how long after you were drinking before you were stopped
*how the officer behaved and any instructions he gave you
*what you said to the officer and how you responded to his instructions
*where you were pulled over
*when and if you were read your Miranda rights
*when and if you took the chemical test and how long it had been since your drank

Write down everything that you can think of, even if it does not strike you as totally relevant. For example, performance of many roadside sobriety tests can be affected by things like the clothes you are wearing (tight skirt, high heels, etc.).

9. Contact an attorney.

You both need and deserve an experienced DUI or DWI defense attorney who will fight for your rights. The single most important thing you can do for yourself is to find a qualified attorney who knows the applicable laws and can help guide you through the legal process.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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