What to do at a DUI Traffic Stop

Every driver gives their ‘implied consent’ to chemical test to determine their blood alcohol content (BAC) when they receive a driver’s license. This means their breath, blood, or urine may be tested for alcohol and/or drugs when under the suspicion of a DWI charge. You should note that you have the right to a second test at your own expense at a place of your choice. When blood is drawn based on a request from law enforcement, it is extremely important to have your DWI lawyer contact the hospital or lab immediately with notice of the federal confidentiality law and to assert your patient’s rights regarding confidentiality of medical records.

The Stop

Police officers need a reason to stop a vehicle. There must be some probable violation to justify stopping your vehicle. Speeding, failing to use signals, rolling through a stop sign, or driving with burned out or even dimmed headlights or brake lights are common justifications for stopping a motorist. Most of these are controllable items or situations.

For example, once every two or three weeks turn on all the lights on your vehicles(s). Check both headlight beams, taillights, clearance lights, brake lights, and turn signals. Your headlights should be properly aimed. Make sure your license plates are properly affixed and readable. Darkly tinted windows, loud exhaust pipes, broken lenses, unrepaired body damage, and cracked windows all serve as a necessary excuse to stop a vehicle.

Always keep documents like your registration and insurance card in a readily accessible location. You do not want to have to search through your glove box, or worse, to not find these documents when you need them. When the blue lights go on, find a safe place to pull over, on the right side of the road whenever possible. Next, turn your dome light on and place both your hands on the steering wheel where the police officer can see them. This makes the officer more comfortable about his safety and conveys a sense of personal control on your part.

What Do You Say To a Police Officer?

Be courteous, but admit to nothing. Do not admit to drinking so much as one beer. You are under no obligation to give the officer any information beyond that on your driver’s license. Your admission to drinking gives the officer “cause” to pursue the matter further. Without that admission he must base his decision to pursue a DC DUI arrest on your driving, or mannerisms after the stop. A burned-out headlight is not an indication of impairment and neither is a refusal to talk about your night’s events.

Officers are trained to engage people in conversation in order to monitor their responses. They monitor speech patterns to determine if there is alcohol on the breath or if the speech is slurred. They record the appearance of the person to see if he or she is disheveled and whether they are able to locate their wallet and related paperwork. Your dialogue with the police officer may be limited by you. You may lawfully and politely choose not to answer any questions other than those regarding your identity. If you choose to answer some questions, you may choose to do so with brief yes or no answers or a nod of the head. Police officers are trained to ask questions which call for a dialogue with you. If you choose not to speak with an officer, you should politely inform the officer of your decision not to answer questions at this time and that you wish to engage your legal right to counsel when that right becomes available to you.

The important thing to remember is that anything you say or do in the presence of an officer is potential evidence and will be used against you in court. At a minimum you should bear this fact in mind and not engage in a dialogue which may incriminate you at a later time. As defendants soon learn, many law enforcement officers do not approach these serious criminal matters with an open and objective mind. Officers record information and results of field sobriety tests (FSTs) with the specific intent to incriminate people and obtain a conviction. Most officers tend not to record information which may prove to be helpful to someone. Therefore, it is not necessary for people to provide incriminating dialogue or other evidence which will later be used against them.

If you notice that the officer is intent on sticking a flashlight in your face or in your car, it is probably because the flashlight is equipped with an electronic alcohol sensor that detects the presence of alcohol. You do not have to accept this “probing.” You can instruct the officer to keep the device away from your face and out of your vehicle. The officer is free to look into your vehicle, but only from the exterior, unless he requests to search your vehicle. NEVER VOLUNTARILY PERMIT A SEARCH OF YOUR VEHICLE. To search your car an officer must have “probable cause,” a belief he must be able to explain in terms of what he is looking for and why he believes he will find a specific illegal item in your vehicle. Moreover, your never have to consent to a police search of your person or vehicle, but, the police may make such a search even without your consent when either:

  1. they have probable cause to believe the vehicle contains contraband or the fruits or instrumentalities of a crime;
  2. when the driver has been placed under arrest; or
  3. they may make a visual inspection of the inside passenger compartment from the officer’s position outside the vehicle, to observe illegal articles in plain view.

What To Do At A DUI Roadblock

It is now the law that from a narrow Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution standpoint, nondiscriminatory sobriety check-points are generally not unreasonable. Bear in mind that other Fourth Amendment problems with sobriety check-points may exist when individual drivers passing through the check-point are asked to pull over.

As to the extent of motorists’ rights; when you are faced with roadblocks, you should be cooperative. If you do not roll down your window it seems that the officer’s suspicion would be heightened and, at minimum, may give the officer grounds to require you to pull over to the side of the road.

Assertion of Rights

Upon initial contact with the roadblock, you may politely refuse to answer any of the officer’s questions. The following is an example of an assertion of rights that can be reproduced and handed to an officer at a roadblock:

Officer, please understand:

I refuse to talk to you until I consult with my attorney. I also refuse to consent to any search of these premises or any other premises under my control, or in which I have a possessory, proprietary, or privacy interest, including my car, my body, or effects. I hereby demand to immediately be allowed the reasonable opportunity to obtain the advice of my attorney by telephone.

I desire to exercise all my rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this State, to be free from your interference with my person or affairs.

If you attempt to question me, I want my lawyer present. I refuse to participate in any line-up or to perform any physical acts, or to speak or display my person or property at your direction, without first conferring with my lawyer.

If I am under arrest, I wish to invoke and exercise my Miranda rights. If you ignore my exercise of these rights and attempt to procure a waiver, I want to confer with my lawyer prior to any conversations with you.

If I am not under arrest, I want to leave. If I am free to leave, please tell me immediately so that I may go about my business.