Nearly everyone has seen those flashing red and blue lights in the rearview mirror and worried if they will be pulled over—for whatever reason. Making matters worse, you may realize that you had a couple of glasses of wine or beer with dinner and worry about whether that amount of alcohol would be enough to warrant a DWI charge. It is natural to panic; however, before working yourself up into a frenzy, pay heed to what you should—and shouldn’t do—if pulled over for suspected DWI.
First of all, it is important to understand that under Minnesota law, a DWI involves being in “physical control” of a motor vehicle while intoxicated. Thus, even if you are sleeping in your car because you’re too intoxicated to drive, you could still be arrested for DWI.
The cardinal rule, of course, is to NEVER drink and drive. Call a cab, a limo, an Uber driver, a friend, or a family member; all of which are significantly less expensive than a DWI conviction.
If you didn’t pay heed to the aforementioned cardinal rule, what, exactly, should you do if you might have had a couple of drinks and have been pulled over?
- Provide your documents. The police will ask for your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. Stay calm, and provide the officer the requested documents, and don’t say anything. If you move suddenly, or fumble while getting your documents, the officer can use this to support an arrest.
- Be quiet, but be polite. Even if you feel you know why you were pulled over, don’t ask the officer. S/he will tell you. Remember that everything you say or do from now on could mean the difference between being convicted or acquitted. You should never admit to anything that may incriminate yourself. If the officer asks if you know why s/he stopped you, just say, “No.” If the officer asks you other interrogatory or potentially incriminating questions such as whether you’ve had anything to drink or where you’re going, just tell the officer you have nothing to say. Even if the officer becomes verbally abusive, don’t let him/her get to you. Remain calm and reiterate that you have nothing to say. But do so politely.
Of primary importance is not admitting that you consumed any alcoholic beverages because, if you do, then you’ve basically given up your Fifth Amendment right, potentially incriminating yourself, and proven half of the officer’s case against you. Additionally, by engaging the officer in conversation, you are giving him/her the ability to smell alcohol on your breath and determine whether your speech is slurred or otherwise indicative of being under the influence, thus providing additional probable cause for an arrest.
Even if you are arrested, keep quiet. No amount of pleading, bargaining, tears, or other excuses will get you out of it, so there’s no need to do so.
- Don’t get out of your vehicle unless the officer asks you to.
- You have the right to refuse to take roadside sobriety tests. Regardless of what the officer may tell you, you may refuse; however, doing so can give the officer reason to suspect that you are intoxicated. Generally, if you are being asked to perform the tests, the officer has already decided to arrest you. Therefore, there is no benefit to performing them especially since there are no objective, standardized pass or fail criteria. The test simply provides the officer with the ability to gather evidence against you.
The same goes for the roadside breathalyzer. You are not required to submit, regardless of what the officer may tell you. Some officers are quite adept at “convincing” motorists why they should take the test. First of all, roadside breathalyzers are notoriously unreliable. Second, these results help the officer establish the necessary probable cause to arrest you. In some cases, the officer may have insufficient probable cause absent any preliminary breath test. Once arrested, however, you will be required to submit to a breathalyzer at the station. Refusal is a violation of the state’s implied consent law and you will face additional charges and penalties.
- Use your witness. If you have someone in the car with you, then you have a potential witness. Make sure s/he can see and hear everything that is transpiring.
- Sign the ticket. If you are only issued a summons, you are required to sign it. Your signature does not mean that you agree with the charge. It simply serves as your agreement to appear in court, if necessary.
- Call your attorney as soon as possible. If you don’t have one, you may qualify for a court-appointed lawyer at no charge. Regardless, it is crucial to speak with your lawyer immediately before you forget any of the circumstances surrounding your arrest. The more you remember, the better your attorney can defend you.