What You Should Do if Stopped for Driving Under the Influence

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

If you are stopped for driving under the influence (DUI), or any traffic violation for that matter, knowing your rights and exercising courtesy and good judgment will make a difficult situation less stressful.  Being aware of what to do when you are stopped for a DUI can lessen the chance of a conviction.

Initial Reaction if Stopped for Driving Under the Influence

If a police officer stops you, sit in your car with your hands visible to the officer.  Do not talk when the officer approaches; roll down your window and listen. Do not assume the officer knew you were drinking, speeding, and smoking marijuana or any other illegal activity. Many people put the thought in the mind of the office by saying such things as “I only had two or three beers” when the officer approaches the car. The police officer could have stopped you for a burned out taillight.

Be Respectful But Assert Your Rights

If you are pulled over by a police officer and stopped for driving under the influence, the stop is only the first step of the process.  Do not argue with the police officer, complain the stop was improper or he is just picking on you. This will get you nowhere. However, there is a difference between arguing with an officer and respectfully asserting your rights. If an officer asks you if you have been drinking, smoking marijuana or have illegal drugs in the car, you do not have to answer, but do not lie. Tell the officer that you want to speak with your attorney before answering any questions. Depending on the officer, you may get a professional response that recognizes your rights or you may not. Control what you can control, in this instance that is your reaction to the officer. You have nothing to gain by reacting out of anger, arguing or venting. Assert and maintain your right against self-incrimination pursuant to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  However, the police can require a person to identify him or herself.

Implied Consent

Assuming you were stopped for driving under the influence, the police officer will ask you to perform a series of roadside sobriety tests. The State of Washington is an implied consent state. Implied consent means that by driving within the state, you permit a chemical analysis of your breath, blood or urine.  Prior to administration of the tests, the law requires the police to inform you that your driver’s license will be suspended for at least a year if you do not submit to the tests.

Tests can be administered for the presence of drugs as well as alcohol. If you are confident you will pass the test, the best move is to consent to the test. The blood-alcohol limit for drivers twenty-one years of age in a non-commercial vehicle is .08, for commercial drivers the limit is .04. For drivers under the age of 21, the blood-alcohol limit is .02. A word of caution, a person can be convicted of a DUI even if the blood-alcohol level is below the legal limit.

Roadside Physical Dexterity Tests

Roadside physical dexterity tests are not the implied consent test. The immediate sobriety tests are used to determine if probable cause exists for an arrest. The tests include walking in a straight line, following a pen light with your eyes, standing on one leg, etc.  The results can be used against you in court. However, no direct legal penalty is applied for not taking the test.  That being said, the officer will be unhappy if you refuse the tests and may still arrest you for a DUI if the officer saw that your eyes were bloodshot or smelled alcohol or other substance either in the car or on your breathe or body.

Search of a Motor Vehicle

Another issue that often arises during if you were stopped for driving under the influence is the search of the automobile. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches. However, the police have broad authority to search a motor vehicle. Listen carefully, if the police officer asks if he can search the car, you can refuse the request. Do not be intimidated or think that if you are cooperative the police will overlook anything they find because you were a nice guy.

The police have a right to make a search of an automobile if they have a reasonable suspicion that a weapon is present which represents a danger to the officer.   This is called a Terry search, after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). The Terry rules give police officers broad powers to search for weapons in motor vehicles. Before a search, the police must have an articulable suspicion that their safety is in jeopardy due to the presence of a weapon.  The court defined “articulable suspicion” in an unreported decision as the police needing to provide an objective reason for the search.  State of Washington v. Volden, No. 37081-6-II (Wash. App. 2/18/2009) (Wash. App., 2009). In addition, the Terry search for weapons must be confined to areas where the passengers have immediate access to a weapon.

If a weapon is in your access, tell the police officer. For example, if you have a gun stored in your glove compartment and the officer tells you to get the registration, which many people store in the glove compartment, tell the officer about the gun. If a weapon is by your side, keep your hands high on the steering wheel. Do not make any quick or furtive moves.  Furtive is a word the police use to justify a search. In this context, furtive means an act that is done in a sneaky manner with an attempt to hide an object.  Do all you can to reassure the officer you are not a threat.

If You Are Stopped for Driving Under the Influence

If you are stopped for driving under the influence, be respectful, but assert your legal rights. Do not argue with the police officer, you will lose. The time to present your case is in court. Do not volunteer information to the police officer, other than the immediate presence of a weapon. Contact a DUI defense attorney as soon as possible.


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