Avoiding a DUI Arrest: Critical First Steps

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 14, 2021

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If you are being pulled over for drunk driving, stay calm; don’t get out of the car. Let the police officer come to you. Locate your license and registration as you will need to have it ready to hand over to the officer. You don’t want to be observed fumbling around for these items as the officer will note this fact in his report as a symptom of intoxication. Roll your window down only enough to be able to communicate with the officer and pass over any requested documentation. They will be attempting to smell alcohol on your breath, so don’t face the officer directly when you are speaking. An odor of alcohol raises the level of suspicion and may justify further investigation of a possible driving while intoxicated offense.

One of the first crucial questions you will be asked is whether or not you have been drinking. If you say yes, you will be making an admission that can be used against you at trial and will justify further investigation. You should tell the officer in a polite manner that you were advised by your attorney to call him or her first before making any statements to a police officer. Keep conversation brief and to the point.

Field Sobriety Tests

If the police officer asks you to step out of the car, comply. If the stopping of your car was legal, police do have the right to order you to step out of the vehicle, and certainly in the case that they think you have been driving drunk. You don’t want to be charged with a separate criminal offense for obstructing justice.

At this point in the stop, the officer is only interested in collecting evidence against you to support an arrest and the criminal charge of DUI/DWI. The officer will ask/order you to perform what are known as standard field sobriety tests. These are physical coordination tests designed by the gurus at the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission to determine whether or not a person is under the influence of alcohol.

It can be argued that these field sobriety tests are nearly impossible for even a sober person to pass. They include the heel-to-toe test, one-leg stand, the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (aka a penlight test), and a host of others. Why provide the police with probable cause evidence to justify your arrest? You don’t want to be arrested and taken to the police station for further testing which will incriminate you. In a polite manner, again tell the officer that you were advised to contact your attorney before submitting to any field sobriety tests. Often times a police officer will be perturbed at this, but remember, you are under no legal obligation to perform these tests.

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Preliminary Breath Test

Next, the officer will ask/order you to submit to what’s known as a preliminary breath test, or PBT (in some jurisdictions this is called PAS, short for preliminary alcohol screening test). This is a portable hand held machine designed to measure the amount of alcohol in your system and is given at the roadside. The DUI suspect is required to blow into the PBT which displays a digital read out. You are under no legal obligation to submit to the PBT test and depending on your situation, you can politely refuse.

In some jurisdictions, you may risk having your driver’s license suspended if you refuse to submit to field sobriety tests. If you know that you have had too much to drink and are likely to fail the field testing, it may be advisable to not submit to the field sobriety tests and live with the license suspension in order to decrease the likelihood of a successful prosecution in a criminal case. If you know that you have not had too much to drink, by all means take the field sobriety tests as you have a good chance of passing them and will probably pass an intoxilyzer, blood or urine test as well. 

Contact a DUI attorney experienced in fighting drunk driving cases. He or she can tell you if the case is strong against you or if there are any holes to be exploited, you don’t want to become easy prey for a skilled prosecutor.

Related Articles:
First DUI: What You Should Know
The Advantages of Hiring a Drunk Driving Attorney

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