Know Your Rights During a DUI Traffic Stop

Seeing red and blue lights in your rear view mirror can send your heart rate soaring and put your nerves on edge. When alcohol is involved, a DUI traffic stop can quickly turn into serious legal trouble. Know your rights ahead of time, so you can keep from panicking and know what to expect.

In this post, I will review state and federal laws that affect a DUI traffic stop. I will explain your rights during a traffic stop, and what to do if you have been arrested.

Stop Your Car As Soon As It Is Safe.

The police have the right to stop your vehicle if they have "reasonable suspicion" that a crime has been committed. The Washington State Police have identified driving under the influence of drugs or alcohols as a main focus to prevent car crashes. That means a police officer will initiate a traffic stop if he or she reasonably believes you are under the influence, that you committed a traffic violation, or that the registered owner of the vehicle you are driving has a suspended license. Washington state law says that any time an officer requests that you stop, you must do so.

However, you do not need to put yourself or the officer in danger. It is legal to continue driving until you can find a safe place to stop. Drive to a side street with less traffic, a lit parking lot, or a part of the road with a wide shoulder under a street light before stopping. If it seems to be taking a while or the officer seems impatient, politely acknowledge the officer, or stop long enough to ask the officer if you can proceed to a safer location, and be specific in your request. Saying "Can we go to that parking lot across the street?" is better than "Can I get somewhere safer?"

Police Will Ask for Your ID. Provide It.

After safety, one of the first priorities for police officers during a DUI traffic stop is to figure out who you are. The officer will ask you for your license, registration, and proof of insurance. Washington state law requires the driver to provide this information upon request, even if the police officer isn't wearing a uniform. Providing the information includes letting them take your ID back to their car, not just making it visible.

The police do not generally have the right to ask passengers for their IDs, unless they are going to be detained for some reason. While the driver must provide his or her driver's license right away, passengers may legally refuse to identify themselves unless they are placed under arrest.

Know Your Right to Remain Silent.

Federal law protects your right not to incriminate yourself (by saying something that makes it seem like you did something illegal). This is commonly known as your right to remain silent. Even so, it is common practice for officers to ask if you know why they stopped you. You do not have to answer that question.

Talking to the police, more than to comply with their orders or provide ID, will almost always make your situation worse, not better. Be extremely careful with anything you say. It is your right to say that you will not answer their questions. Again, be polite, but firm. Even if the officer continues to ask you questions about how much you had to drink, or where you were drinking, simply decline to answer. Anything else could be used against you in court. It is better to refuse to answer all of the officer's questions instead of picking and choosing what you think is safe to answer. If the officer asks you how much you had to drink, "two beers" or any response for that matter will likely be damaging to your case. You do not have to answer that question.

Roadside Tests

The typical 3-test battery includes:

  • the HGN (follow the pen),
  • walk-and-turn, and
  • one-leg-stand tests.

However, at times, the officer will attempt to get you to do other, less common roadside tests. The officer should tell you that these tests are voluntary. That means there is little to no benefit to them. Why give law enforcement more evidence to use against you? Even if the officer doesn't tell you they are voluntary, the best way to approach a request to do these tests is to respectfully decline. If the officer keeps pushing or tries telling you that the tests are a way to show you are sober (they aren't), tell the officer you have been advised by legal counsel to politely refuse all roadside tests.

Why decline? You may not be as good at the tests as you would expect. Most people do not practice a walk-and-turn or one-leg-stand test. Imagine trying to shoot a basketball for the first time without any practice. If you lose your balance or have trouble with the instructions, the officer could use that against you as "proof" you are intoxicated. Again, be respectful but refuse all roadside tests.

Taking the DUI Breath Test or Blood Test

If you are arrested for a DUI, Washington state's "implied consent" law requires you to take a blood or breath test. After you are arrested, the officer must give you the option to refuse the BAC test. Be warned: taking that option may result in at least a 1 year suspension of your license, and the fact that you refused will be used against you at court. If someone is seriously injured or killed in a DUI accident, or if you are unconscious, the officer does not need to ask your consent before administering the test. Also, if the officer gets a search warrant to take your blood, you cannot refuse the search warrant.

Before making the decision to take or refuse the breath test, ALWAYS exercise your right to speak with an attorney. The arresting officer cannot deny you this right. However, the officer only has a duty to make reasonable efforts to put you in contact with an attorney.

The portable (roadside) breath test is voluntary. Unless you are 100% certain you are going to pass this test, there is no benefit to you in taking it. It is simply a tool used by law enforcement to determine if they have probable cause to arrest you or not.

You Have A Right to Information

There are a number of steps in a DUI traffic stop that include the officer telling you what is happening. During the stop and subsequent arrest you have a right to:

  • Be informed of your right to refuse a breath test (and what the consequences are if you refuse)
  • Know that your license will be suspended and how to challenge the suspension.
  • Know what you are being charged with
  • Know that you are being placed under arrest
  • Be told of your right to remain silent and to have an attorney during any interview after arrest.

If an officer fails to provide you this information, it could be used as part of your DUI defense. Pay attention to what the officer tells you, and what he or she doesn't.

What to Do After a DUI Traffic Stop

If you are arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, it is very important that you and your family work quickly to get an experienced DUI defense attorney on your case right away. You don't need to wait until you are released from jail or have appeared on a bond hearing. I will set you up with a free 90 minute consultation with you or a loved one, so you will have plenty of time to get all of your questions answered. I handle most cases with one clear flat fee, so you will know what to expect before you leave the office. When you're ready to choose Campbell Law Firm as your criminal defense firm, all you need to do is contact me.

Categories: DUI / Drunk Driving