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SWINDLE COLUMN: Advice on navigating a DUI investigation

Do not drink and drive; even if only one beer was consumed. No one wants to hurt someone else or themselves. No one wants to get arrested, go to jail, risk losing their license, pay huge fines, have insurance go through the roof, and perhaps even lose a great job.

If a person drinks and drives, no matter how conservatively, there is a real possibility that they could be stopped, arrested, and maybe convicted of DUI. Even sober drivers, who have not consumed alcohol or drugs, can find themselves in the middle of a DUI investigation.

Since being accused of DUI can happen to anyone at any time, there are several things a driver should know regarding DUI investigations:

1. The Vehicle – Police officers need probable cause to make a traffic stop. Reasons justifying a stop include a traffic violation, an observable defect in the vehicle’s safety equipment, or observing driving that can indicate that the driver may be intoxicated. Most of these are controllable items or situations if a person checks their vehicle on a regular basis;

2. Driving Time and Place – While not surprising, I have noticed that almost all my clients are pulled over between 10:00 p.m. and 4 a.m. When pulling out of a bar, rowdy event, or party during this time frame, the chances of being stopped increase.

3. The Traffic Stop – Do’s and Don’ts – Whether drinking or not, remain calm. Nervousness is detected by well-trained officers based on several factors; particularly body language. Always keep documents like registration and the insurance card in a readily accessible location. A person does not want to have to ramble through the interior to try to find these documents when they are needed.

When the blue lights go on, find a safe place to pull over; always on the right side of the road whenever safe and possible. Next, the driver should turn on the dome light and place both hands on the steering wheel where the police officer can see them. This makes the officer more comfortable about their safety and conveys a sense of personal responsibility on the part of the driver.

Drivers should always be courteous and polite to the officer(s) regardless of the circumstances. Law enforcement officers are carrying out their duties to the best of their abilities. DUI cases are sometimes dismissed when a driver is cool, calm, and collected in the face of a frustrated officer.  Remember that “less is more.”

Any admission, however inconsequential, will be used against the driver. A response like “Officer, I just had a couple of beers” is a huge red flag and can provide an officer with enough information to investigate the matter further. Without that admission he must base the decision to pursue a DUI arrest on driving, the driver’s mannerisms after that stop, etc. 

If the officer decides to continue his investigation, he will likely ask the driver to step out of the vehicle. The officer will ask the driver to perform dexterity tests. These tests, commonly known as “field sobriety tests”, can include walking and turning, raising your leg, and following a pen with your eyes (HGN test). Taking part in these tests will not get you out of the eventual arrest. They are administered in front of the police cruiser with the video recording the driver. I cannot remember handling a case when a client “passed” the tests; including sober drivers.

The driver must politely decline all field sobriety tests; including the “alcosensor”; a small portable device used at the scene of the stop. Do not argue, become belligerent, or beg not be arrested; and

4. State’s Administered Test – The officer will either read or recite something called the “implied consent notice” after the arrest.  He is requesting a sample of the driver’s blood, breath, urine, etc.

This is the one aspect of a DUI related traffic stop that no one can responsibly provide direction on because the best decision regarding whether to take the test depends on the unique circumstances of each stop. However, if a person consents to and takes the officer’s test, he should always request an independent test to be performed at a hospital afterwards.

The consequences of a DUI conviction can be severe.

For this, and many other reasons, securing the services of a proven, experienced, and trustworthy attorney of the driver’s choice is a must. If a person cannot afford to hire an attorney, he or she should seek the services of the public defender.

Be safe on our roads. Protect our community. Know how to handle traffic stops.

Do not drink and drive.