One of the biggest regrets that we commonly see in our DUI cases here at Cansino Blanchette Law Firm is our clients not understanding what exactly is happening when they are pulled over by a police officer. We know that the whole process can be scary and intimidating, but you DO have rights that can help you win your DUI case! The good news about DUI stops is that they are mostly predictable in the pattern and manner in which they will be handled! With that in mind, we hope to better explain some of the steps and choices that you can make if you find yourself in this unnerving situation.
THE INITIAL STOP
The first step in an officer’s DUI stop is pulling you over. The reason for the stop could be anything from seeing you swerving to simply having a burnt out tag light. Even though the reason for the stop will vary, what remains constant is the officer’s initial approach and assessment of the situation.
From the moment that the officer approaches your vehicle you need to understand that he/she is investigating you. No matter how friendly or intimidating they are, they are trying to build a case against you. They will approach your car looking for clues that can help them build their case. Obvious clues are the smell of alcohol or marijuana, visually seeing cans or bottles in the car, and so on and so forth. These examples are aspects of their investigation that for the most part are out of your control. But what happens next is crucial to their case against you and you DO have the ability to control it.
Once they approach your car they will begin to talk to you about the situation. They will ask you for your license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration. You should comply and give them these things right away. But it’s when they start to ask you questions that you really need to understand what is happening. Even simple, friendly questions like, “Where are you headed, where are you coming from?” are for the purpose of building a case against you. They will look for clues in the way that you answer and what you might admit through your response. You do NOT have to answer their questions. You have the right to refuse!
One of the biggest strengths of an officer’s case against you is their initial questioning at the start of the stop, and very few people understand how important it is to limit what you say during this phase. We recommend very politely declining to answer their questions with a response along the lines of, “ Officer, it would be my preference to remain silent at this time.” Or, “Officer, I would prefer to have an attorney present before answering any further questions.” Both responses are well within your legal rights and refusing to answer their questions can potentially have a huge, positive impact on your DUI case. Even if they try to intimidate you, you have the right to simply stay silent.
FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS
The next step in the officer’s case building against you is to attempt to get you to take what are known as field sobriety tests. There are many different tests with different variations, but some common examples are the 9 step walk and turn, Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, and the one leg stand. It’s important to note that there are many other kinds of tests, but the most important thing to know about these tests is that they are VOLUNTARY.
The officer should ask you if you would be willing to partake in a few tests so that he can determine if you’re safe to drive. Our recommended response to this question is something along the lines of, “Officer, are these tests voluntary?” If you ask the officer that question, they confirm that the tests are optional. If they say no then they are making a false statement; these tests are completely voluntary. Once the officer confirms with you that the tests are optional, politely decline to take them! The DUI case against you becomes much weaker if you respectfully decline to answer their questions or take their tests.
Time and time again we see DUI cases where clients are unaware of the evidence they build against them through their compliance with the officer’s investigation. Unfortunately, 9 out of 10 times the officer has already determined whether he/she will arrest you or not well before they carry out their questions and tests. It is the knowledge of what you can refuse that could help you win a DUI case if you are ever unfortunate enough to find yourself in that situation. We highly recommend that you contact us if you have any specific questions about a DUI case, or if there are other scenarios or aspects of DUI law that you better wish to understand! Thanks for reading!