Most people know that driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is against the law and can have serious consequences. However, it is important to know what to expect during a traffic stop if you are suspected of driving under the influence. Whether you are driving under the influence or not, understanding the process of a traffic stop if you are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is an important part of protecting your rights during and after the stop.
You are Not Initially Under Arrest
When you are initially stopped by law enforcement officials for suspected DUI, you are not technically under arrest. While you are not free to leave, you are also not in custody, and because of this distinction, law enforcement officials do not need to read you your Miranda rights. However, law enforcement officers need to have reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime to detain you. This could be based on erratic driving or even a broken taillight that you may not have noticed. Without reasonable suspicion for the initial stop, it is possible that your lawyer can argue that the stop was unlawful. This is one tactic that might be able to be employed in your defense, depending on your circumstances.
Initial Questioning and Field Sobriety Tests
Likely, the officer will begin to question you about whether or not you have been drinking. You can refuse to answer this question, but you must provide any documentation a law enforcement officer requests such as your driver’s license and/or vehicle registration. Regardless of your answer, if an officer suspects that you might be operating a vehicle under the influence, then they will probably ask you to step out of the vehicle so that you can perform field sobriety testing. You can, and often should, refuse to perform these field sobriety tests by stating that the tests are unreliable indicators of being under the influence.
Personal Breath Tests
At this point, an officer may request that you perform a field breath test. If the officer is using a handheld breath testing device, you can refuse to take this test unless you are under 21 years of age. This is not the same as refusing actual chemical testing in the form of a blood test or from a true breath analysis machine, which you must comply with. The results of this field breath test are not actually admissible in court, nor is your refusal to take the test, and results are used solely to help an officer establish probable cause that you have been operating a vehicle under the influence. If you refuse to take the personal field breath test, you should state that you do not believe you are required to do so by law.
Do Not Argue
Whether you have been drinking or using some other substance or not, it is in your best interests to cooperate with law enforcement officials during a DUI traffic stop. Even if you notice law enforcement officials doing something you believe may be in violation of your rights, it is not an ideal time to point this out to them unless you are specifically asserting your rights. Arguing can help police establish probable cause or even include additional charges if they issue you a citation. Instead, be polite and respectful in your responses while staying alert and aware of everything happening during the traffic stop and any subsequent related activities, including detention. Make sure to report any irregularities to your lawyer.
Following the above recommendations and understanding your rights can help strengthen your defense if you are charged with a DUI. If you are facing a DUI or other alcohol-related traffic offense, working with a Colorado criminal defense attorney that focuses his or her practice on working with clients facing similar charges can help you prepare a strong defense based on your circumstances. If you are facing these types of intimidating charges, contact the criminal defense team at Tiftickjian Law Firm to schedule a consultation where you can find out more about your charges as well as how you might be able to defend against them.
(image courtesy of Matt Popovich)