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TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IF YOU ARE STOPPED FOR A DUI

Posted on in Criminal Law

By: Brian K. Stevens

Illinois DUI AttorneysFirst a caveat:  This article is not a “How To” of avoiding a DUI arrest.  If it is late at night and a police officer observes any traffic violation and then subsequently smells any amount of odor of alcohol, they will almost always find some reason to arrest the motorist for DUI. Therefore, the best that can be done on such a stop is to minimize the amount of evidence that you give to the police officer.  That way, once the matter is placed into the court system, an experienced DUI attorney can utilize the State’s evidence (or more importantly, lack thereof) to gain an advantage for his client, and many times, significantly reduce the penalties or even have the DUI case entirely dismissed. With those parameters in mind, here are the Top 10 Things To Do If You Are Stopped for a DUI:

  1. As soon as you see the squad car’s emergency lights activated, begin to pull your vehicle over

The longer the time you take to pull over, the more it can be argued that your reactions were slowed due to alcohol consumption. As soon as you see the police car’s overhead lights, gradually slow your car down, use your turn signal and begin to pull over to the side of the road.  If there is a parking lot in the immediate area, it is okay to turn into it to pull over, but do not drive more than one block to look for one.

Also, as you are bringing your car to a safe stop, roll down your driver’s window and crack the passenger window.  Police officers are trained to look for any odor of alcohol that is apparent upon approaching a motorist they suspect of DUI.  Allowing outside air to flow through the car will minimize any accumulation of odors of alcohol that may have occurred.

  1. Have you Driver’s License and Insurance Card ready

Officers are trained to note how long it takes a motorist to find their identifying documents, and additionally, note any difficulty with producing said documents.  It is easy to spend a length of time looking through a cluttered glove box for an insurance card and then fumbling while trying to remove a driver’s license from the window of your wallet.  Add to that, the pressure of the officer staring down on you and shining his flashlight into your car.  Having your two most important items ready avoids that situation.

  1. If the officer does not tell you the reason you are being stopped, ask “Why am I being pulled over?”

This is important because you want the officer to articulate the reason for the stop of your vehicle.  That will certainly be useful when you meet with your DUI attorney.  Whatever the officer’s answer, do not engage in a debate with them about whether they are correct to pull you over.

  1. Do not answer any of the officer’s questions about what you were doing that night

Police officers are generally good people.  They typically are not looking to arrest people for no reason.  That being said, the police officer at that moment is not there to be your friend, he is there to do his job and his job will involve accumulating as much evidence as he needs to formulate an opinion that you are DUI.  Secondly, police officers are smart.  They make traffic stops all the time.  You will not be able to convince them with some clever story that you are trying to spin as you are talking. Thus, engaging in a conversation with the officer about how you had only “two drinks,” or where you are coming from, or what you were doing that night, will only backfire. 

The best response is to politely tell the officer that you would “rather not discuss the events of your night.”

  1. Do ask “Am I free to leave?”

The officer’s response to that single question will give your DUI attorney a very direct path from which to proceed.  An experienced DUI attorney will understand how to prepare and litigate a potential Motion to Suppress for lack of probable cause by using the officer’s response and when his response occurred in the conversation.

  1. Do not participate in any Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

The officer will likely ask you to step out of your vehicle.  You are required to do so.  The officer will then ask you to perform a series of field sobriety tests to determine if you are fit to drive.  You are not required to do that.  

The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests that are administered have an extremely skewed grading scale.  Coupled with that, they involve physical movements that are not generally made in a typical day.  Very rarely does anyone (outside of a circus performer) ever need to walk on a line, touching heel to toe, while they work their 9-to-5 job.  Because you never have to need to perform those tests and do not regularly practice them  –  you will never pass them in the traditional sense.  If you take the tests, you will only accumulate a series of errors and provide the police officer with more evidence against you.

  1. If you have injuries or ailments of any kind, tell the officer about them at that time

Even if you do not participate in the Field Sobriety Tests, the officer will be making notes of your general balance, walking, and physical appearance.  If you recently had surgery or have leg or back problems, let the officer know that.  The police officer is required to consider any of that information you provide in his determination of probable cause,  as long as it is disclosed prior to any arrest. 

  1. Do not take a Portable Breath Test

Again, politely decline the offer to take such a test.  Many times, the officer will tell you that by taking the test, you can “prove that you are okay to drive?”  The portable breath tests are notoriously inaccurate and remember, you do not have to prove anything.

  1. If arrested, do not become visibly upset or try to avoid being arrested

To become instantly angry (even if justified), after you were just polite, will allow the officer to put in his report that your behavior was characterized by severe “mood swings.”  The prosecution loves to argue that only drunk people have such mood swings.  Do not swear at the officer, threaten you will “have his badge”, or make any reference to his mother. Becoming abusive to the officer will only translate to the judge or jury that you are an unlikeable person, and unlikeable people rarely are found not guilty.  

Also, you do not have the right to refuse to be arrested.  In fact, to take actions that make the arrest difficult, such as pulling your hands away or tensing up so that the handcuffs cannot be placed, can lead to another charge of Resisting Arrest.  Not only does that charge carry enhanced penalties, but it also gives the prosecution one more offense to argue against you.

  1. When you are brought back to the police station, politely refuse all testing and all interviews

When you are brought back to the police station, you will be processed.  Cooperate with the booking process, however, you must continue to refuse to answer questions and refuse to submit to any further testing.

The officer will likely ask if you will submit to another, more accurate breath test.  Just as on the street with the Portable Breath test, you must again refuse any chemical testing.  If the officer asks for your consent to a blood or urine test, you must refuse that as well. If the officer says he will get a warrant, that does not change things.  Maintain your refusal. Only if the officer does, in fact, obtain a search warrant (that topic addressed in a subsequent article), then must you comply with the dictates of the search warrant.

With regard to answering questions, whether the officer reads you your Miranda warnings or not, the answer is still the same:  Do not answer any questions and do state that you want your attorney present. This is your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.  That Constitutional right is there for a reason – use it.  Do not think that you will answer some questions and then not others, or that you will somehow outsmart the officer.  Police officers are trained to question suspects and, also, are educated in interrogation skills.  No defendant has ever talked himself out of a DUI after he has been arrested.  The time to discuss the events that led up to your arrest is with your DUI attorney in his office, not with the police officer that brought you in handcuffs to the police station.

Lastly, when it comes time to post your bond and you do not have the funds on your person (or by credit card), you will be allowed to contact family or friends to do so.  There is no “one phone call” rule.  You are allowed a reasonable number of attempts to secure your bond. Again, when you do reach someone who will help you with your bail, do not discuss anything about the case or your side of the story with them.  The officer, who is sitting a few feet away, will most certainly make note of anything (that helps his case) you say to the person on the other end of the phone call and include that in his report.

The above is sound advice to minimize your exposure to the court system and to help your case be presented in the most favorable light.  While these suggestions provide a guide, remember the most important part of your case is hiring an experienced and knowledgeable DUI defense attorney.

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