Too often people who encounter the police don’t understand that they have a right to remain silent. Police do not need to inform a person of these rights, unless police place the person into custody and wish to interrogate that person once in custody. Call a Raleigh Criminal Lawyer at (919) 352-9411 if you need someone who can defend your rights in a criminal matter.
A DWI or DUI or Drunk Driving stop is a very common interaction with police where people fail to exercise their rights.
Let’s take a common scenario:
1. Sometimes police will spot a car swerving or running lights or otherwise appearing to be driven by someone who is drunk or impaired. Other times police will patrol areas around bars, clubs, or universities. Raleigh police, for instance, know that North Carolina State University (NCSU) students like to go to certain bars, or clubs in the Warehouse District. So naturally they will patrol those areas.
When police spot a car that is either being driven improperly, or that they see coming out of a parking lot of a bar or restaurant late at night, they suspect, with good reason, that the person may be drunk.
However, mere suspicion – a hunch – is not enough for police to arrest that person. Police need more information in order to make a legal arrest.
2. Once police have stopped the car – and let’s assume that they have stopped the car for a valid, and legal reason – the police simply can’t arrest the person on suspicion of drunk driving unless they observe additional clues.
This is the most important part of the driver’s encounter with police. At this point, a lot is riding on what the driver does.
Perhaps the driver, when asked by the police officer whether he has been drinking, says “Yes, sir. But I only had two beers.” That may be enough for the police officer to arrest the driver, especially if the police officer has seen the person driving in an erratic or reckless fashion.
If the officer asks the driver to step out of the car, and the driver complies and performs standardized field sobriety tests (SFST) or other tests administered by the officer, that is simply giving the officer more information so that the officer can prove the driver has been driving while impaired. Because the SFSTs are designed to detect impairment, they are very unforgiving, which means that even if you were perfectly sober, you might fail the SFSTs.
But let’s consider how a driver can avoid arrest. What if the driver simply says: “Officer, I respect your job, but I won’t answer any questions without a lawyer.” At that point, the driver is not giving the officer any additional information. If the officer says, “Would you please step out of the car?” the driver can then respond: “Am I under arrest?”
If the officer tells the driver he is under arrest, then the driver must step out of the car. But because the officer was unable to collect any additional information about the driver before the arrest, the legality of the arrest will stand or fall on whatever the officer observed pre-arrest.
In other words, the driver has very much improved his chances of winning a DWI case.
A driver should always politely, but firmly refuse to perform any field sobriety tests or answer any questions.
A driver may wish to politely but firmly refuse a chemical analysis test performed post-arrest at the jail or police station, understanding that the refusal to perform that chemical analysis (breath test) will probably mean an automatic suspension of the person’s license for a year.
The important thing to remember is to always be polite, but always refuse to answer questions without a lawyer present.