There are few things more terrifying than getting pulled over after you have been socially drinking with friends. Even if you have stayed within the legal limits, or have had several hours pass since your last drink, you can attract the attention of an officer with something as simple as a blinker-less lane change, or what could be perceived as irregular driving: driving too fast or too slow, turning indecision, or other actions that stand out. You could also just be driving at a time and place when officers are expecting drunk drivers.
Regardless of how many drinks you may have had, and when you last had them, there are some basic principles that you should be aware of and follow:
As you are being stopped by an officer
- Be respectful and cooperative — Hostility or rudeness will only invite increased scrutiny by the officer. Be polite and responsive to the officer’s questions.
- Remember that you are probably on camera — Many DWI stops in Missouri are recorded by squad car videos. This video can provide evidence that supports the officer’s decision to arrest you. It can also help exonerate you. Be mindful of this fact and behave appropriately. Try not to stumble.
- You have the right to remain silent — Provide the officer with your driver’s license and insurance card. But don’t answer any questions regarding your consumption of alcohol or admit that you have been at a bar. At this point, the officer is looking for information that will allow him or her to continue the investigation to find evidence against you. The less information you provide, the more difficult the officer’s task is. DO NOT LIE, just politely decline to answer questions about where you have been, where you are going, and what you have been drinking or smoking. Try something like: “I’m sorry officer, but i prefer not to answer your questions.”
- Field sobriety tests — In asking you to perform these tests, the officer is looking for evidence that you are impaired. You may respectfully decline to perform field sobriety tests. If he or she presses you to perform these tests, you may restate your refusal in polite language.
- Caveat: If the officer is asking you to perform field sobriety tests, he already suspects you of driving under the influence. When you refuse the tests, he will likely proceed to arrest you and write a ticket. If the officer asks you to perform field sobriety tests, it is likely that the only way to stop the encounter and go on your way is to pass the sobriety tests. If you are sober and not under the influence of some prescription or other drug, you may consider attempting their tests.
- Performing field sobriety tests: If you decide to perform their tests, pay very close attention to what they tell you to do. Not following directions is a clue to insobriety. So when they tell you to stand still with your legs together and your arms to your side, they MEAN it. If you use your arms to talk to the officer after they give you the instruction, they will note that as evidence of being under the influence. The tests challenge your balance and your ability to pay attention. So if you engage the officer in his tests, please pay close attention.
- Do not submit to a portable breath test — The results from this hand-held device can provide probable cause for the police to arrest you. Refusing to take a portable breath test does not violate Missouri’s implied consent law.
- Get legal help as soon as possible — If you refuse to perform field sobriety tests or take a portable breath test, you may be transported to a police station and asked to take an official breath test. At that point, should you take the breath test? That is a complicated issue that depends on the specific circumstances of your case. You should obtain advice from an experienced DWI defense attorney.
There are ways to challenge the results if you do blow
Just because the testing equipment showed you were over the limit does not mean that you were intoxicated or the tests were accurate. There are a number of ways the test could be inaccurate or malfunction making it appear like you were guilty. An experienced Missouri DWI defense attorney understands the science and laws behind these chemical tests to challenge them in court.
Problems with breath testing devices, the test sample, and individuals operating the machine could result in inaccurate results. Things that can skew the results of a breath test can include:
- Uncalibrated breath testing device,
- Breath testing device not in proper working order,
- Testing by an untrained individual,
- Not following breath testing protocol,
- Not properly observing the test subject before and during the breath test,
- Improper instructions for the test subject,
- Medical conditions, or
- Food, drink, gum, mints, or medication that give inaccurate results.
Another way to challenge breath test evidence in a Missouri DWI case is to file a motion to suppress breath or blood test results. This is generally done before the trial so that the inaccurate evidence cannot be used in court. There are a number of grounds to challenge the breath test evidence, depending on how the test was conducted and whether the machine was properly maintained and calibrated.
It is important to contact an attorney with trial law experience if you are pulled over. Even if you have had a few drinks, there are ways to fight having a DWI on your record. If you or someone you know has faced a DWI, contact the Baldwin & Vernon team to understand your options.