Don’t forfeit your constitutional rights during a DWI stop – here, we explore common mistakes that people make when they are being investigated for DWI.
“You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you.” If you ask most adults in America if they have heard this and understand the basics behind this concept, they will say yes. Unfortunately, it is astounding how many people simply do not adhere to it when they have contact with law enforcement officers. That phrase is particular to Miranda Warnings, but one can heed the principles set forth even before Miranda warnings are read. In fact, these rights always apply when dealing with a law enforcement officer.
In previous blogs, we have written about self-incrimination in general, but because we see people incriminate themselves at almost every DWI stop that we have ever seen, we have decided to write about this topic as it relates specifically to DWI. In this blog, we will specifically discuss common mistakes regarding self-incrimination that our clients made during their DWI stop. Like all of our blogs, this is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice and counsel of a DWI attorney.
Admitting to drinking during DWI stop
People who are getting pulled over tend to be a little bit too chatty for their own good. When you are being pulled over, you are required to present your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. That is about it. In fact, if you are not driving and just have a casual encounter with a law enforcement officer while walking down the street you don’t even have to identify yourself in most cases.
Police officers love to ask “have you had anything to drink tonight” … you don’t have to answer that question. In fact, if you stop and think about it, what do you possibly have to gain from saying “well yes, I only had a glass of wine”? … No police officer ever has said: “oh, just one glass of wine, let me send you on your way as soon as possible then!”
We have had countless clients that would have been much better off if they just hadn’t admitted to drinking. Whether you say you have had one drink or ten, this is an admission of drinking and will aid the officer in establishing probable cause to arrest and may cripple your defense down the road.
Stating that you are coming from a bar, party, etc.
Law enforcement officers will ask you where are coming from. You do not have to answer this. It is not normally wise to admit that you just left a drinking establishment. When you admit to police officers that you just left a bar, that is yet another check in the probable cause to arrest for DWI box.
Agreeing to take the field sobriety test at DWI stop
Law enforcement officers love asking questions that don’t sound like questions. “Why don’t you do me a favor and step out and do a couple of field sobriety tests for me” or “Step out of your vehicle for me so I can make sure that you’re good to drive.” While these do not sound like questions (by design), you do not have to perform these field sobriety tests. These questions (intentionally disguised as statements) are crafted in order to obtain your consent undergo field sobriety tests. The person who is getting pulled over often assumes it is an order that they have to adhere to, but that is not the case – YOU DO NOT HAVE TO TAKE FIELD SOBREITY TESTS.
Field Sobriety tests have the sole purpose of advancing the process of getting a DWI charge. They are not used to “just make sure you’re good to drive, and send you on your way”. Field sobriety tests can be refused.
To be clear, much of the time, the officer will still place you under arrest for DWI if you refuse the tests. However, the officer must still have probable cause to arrest, which is much harder for the State to establish without having an officer claim that you “failed” the tests. If the officer does not actually have probable cause, this will constitute an illegal arrest and your DWI lawyer can argue this point in court and if they prevail, the case will be dismissed. Remember, the main purpose of field sobriety tests is to establish probable cause for arrest. So, why help the officer out on that front?
Agreeing to blow into a breathalyzer in the field
Nobody ever has to blow into a breathalyzer in the field. A refusal at the station after you have been arrested for DWI will lead to a license suspension in North Carolina, but refusing to blow on the side of the road before you are charged with and arrested for DWI doesn’t hurt you. In fact, that test is used only to help enable the officer to charge you with DWI.
Again, this request is oftentimes phrased in a way that sounds more like a command than a question, but the police cannot command you to submit to a breathalyzer test prior to arrest. They are just attempting to get you to consent to forfeiting constitutional rights, but you do not have to do that.
Consequences of these mistakes
All of the above-mentioned topics serve the purpose of helping a law enforcement officer obtain the necessary probable cause to arrest someone for DWI. In North Carolina, DWI has some serious consequences that can have long term affects. In addition, DWIs can’t be expunged after conviction, so it would be best for people not to help the State convict them of DWI. You have valuable constitutional rights, and you do not have to forfeit these rights just because a police officer wants you to.
If you have been charged with DWI in Charlotte, North Carolina or the surrounding areas, contact us.