“It was only a few drinks. I’ll be fine,” you think to yourself as you drive off. Everything seems to be going okay — that is until you look up and see the flashing red and blue lights in the rearview mirror. Knowing that you’ve been drinking, your stomach drops.
Your mind races to images of being dragged away in handcuffs, going to jail, and having to deal with an embarrassing, exhausting, and expensive DUI case.
The regret instantly sets in.
Don’t panic. We don’t always make the best choices. So, if you ever find yourself in a position like this, here’s what you should do (and not do) to get the best outcome out of a bad situation.
1. Safely Pull-Over
As soon as you notice the flashing lights and sirens, you need to carefully execute your next moves. Keep in mind that police vehicles are usually equipped with cameras and officers sometimes have body-worn cams, so everything you do from here on out is likely being recorded.
Don’t just abruptly stop or recklessly pull off to the side of the road. Turn your right turning signal on, slow the car down to a safe speed, and pull over as far to the right as possible to allow the officer room to approach the car safely.
2. Carefully Follow the Officer’s Instructions
Police officers are cautious when approaching seemingly intoxicated drivers — and rightly so. To this end, sudden movements can potentially make officers react impulsively. Here’s what you should do instead:
Take a deep breath.
Keep your hands on the steering wheel until you’re asked for your driver’s license and registration. If these documents are in the glove compartment or backseat, notify the officer and request permission to get them.
Remain seated in your vehicle unless the officer instructs you otherwise.
3. Stay Calm and Be Polite
Your attitude and demeanor can have a significant impact on the outcome of your traffic stop. Start off on the right foot by setting a non-confrontational tone.
Remember, the conversation between you and the officer is likely being recorded. You don’t want to seem rude, unreasonable, or belligerent, as all of those things could be used to create a case against you and may even lead to additional charges like “disorderly conduct” or “resisting arrest.”
Respect can go a long way here. Even if you are not receiving the respect you deserve, maintain your composure. Politely address the officer as “ma’am” or “sir” or “officer” and do not physically or verbally combat them. For instance, if the officer asks you to step out of the car, do so. Law enforcement officers are allowed to pull you out of your vehicle for officer safety or to carry out their investigation.
4. Don’t Say More Than You Should
There’s a fine line between being cooperative and incriminating yourself. Yes, you should be compliant, but you don’t want to say anything that can be used against you in court.
Provide direct and brief responses to questions you’re legally required to answer, including providing your name, driver’s license, vehicle registration, and car insurance information.
Beyond that, be careful about what you say and how you answer questions. As you know, “everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” You should never lie to the police. Apart from being unethical, it can hurt you in court.
The best rule of thumb is to not offer any information at all. Furthermore, you can politely tell the officer that you do not wish to answer any further questions until you’ve had the chance to speak with an attorney.
5. Should You Take Field Sobriety Tests or Breathalyzer Test?
Whether or not you should take field sobriety tests or breathalyzer test is one of the most commonly asked questions and one of the trickiest to answer. Truth is: It depends.
Field sobriety tests are given by officers to help them establish probable cause for an arrest in a DUI case. The problem is the tests are subjective and based on the officer’s interpretation. You’re not legally obligated to take them and your refusal should not be used against you in court.
If you know with certainty that you’re not intoxicated at all, and you don’t have any underlying issues affecting your balance or coordination, taking field sobriety tests might not hurt. However, under almost all circumstances, it’s in your best interest to politely decline the field sobriety tests.
Breathalyzer tests are a different story. Drivers in PA are subject to the “Implied Consent” law. If a police officer has a reasonable suspicion that you are driving while intoxicated or impaired, it is implied that because you operated a motor vehicle, you consent to breath and chemical blood alcohol content tests.
Refusing will result in an automatic 12 to 18-month driver’s license suspension. Refusing to take a breathalyzer test won’t prevent you from being arrested for a DUI. It also won’t prevent a police officer from obtaining a warrant to force you to provide a blood sample.
But that doesn’t mean you should always volunteer to take a breathalyzer test or provide a blood sample. The specific circumstances of each situation must be taken into account when deciding if you should take a breathalyzer test. It’s best to consult with an attorney to fully understand the implications.
6. Document What Happened
As the old saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” The outcome of your DUI case may be embedded in the little seemingly irrelevant details you can provide to your attorney. It’s important to document what happened right away before you forget anything.
Your notes should contain:
- What did you drink, how much, and when?
- How long after you stopped drinking did you get arrested?
- What did the officer say was his reason for stopping you?
- How did the conversation between you and the officer proceed?
- Did the officer ask you to take a breathalyzer or field sobriety tests?
Your documentation might help your attorney uncover any mistakes the officer made that could work in your favor.
7. Contact a Knowledgeable DUI Attorney
According to the CDC, drunk driving is responsible for up to 10,000 deaths annually. DUI is a severe offense, and the courts are eager to release the law’s full wrath on offenders. DUI convictions can result in hefty fines and jail time.
That said, if you’ve been charged with DUI, your best chance to reduce your fines or jail time is to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney –one who has a track record of success and perfectly understands your situation.