It’s not hard to imagine the panic you might feel if you were ever pulled over for DWI. From the moment you see those flashing lights in the rearview mirror, you know your life is about to change. It’s never a good situation to be in, but by remaining knowledgeable of your rights and exercising them, you can handle your potential DWI arrest in the best way possible.
According to the CDC, in 2016, more than one million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence in the US. That’s thousands of arrests per day. It’s one of the most common criminal offenses, next to violent crimes and drug abuse violations.
There’s a fine line between drinking and driving and driving under the influence. It’s a gray area that a lot of GOOD people have found themselves in. It is not illegal to drink and drive — a driver must be impaired by drugs or alcohol to commit a crime. In Missouri, a driver is considered impaired by alcohol if their blood-alcohol content (BAC) is above .08%.
When an officer pulls you over for suspicion of DWI, they look for signs of impairment. This is when you need to consider your rights and remember that your conduct during this interaction can significantly affect the outcome of your situation. From experienced DWI lawyer W. Scott Rose — Here’s step-by-step guidance on handling your DWI.
Step 1: Pull Over Quickly, Calmly, and Safely
Even if you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, getting pulled over is incredibly nerve-racking. Remember, you are operating a motorized vehicle — likely at a speed that can cause serious injury in an accident. You need to stay calm, slow down, turn on your signal light to indicate your compliance, and pull over to the nearest safe area.
By this point, the officer has already observed something prompting their reaction to stop you; the last thing you want to do is attempt to evade the police. Most police cars and officers have cameras that record everything; failure to cooperate and pull over at this point is only going to strengthen a case against you.
Once you’ve safely pulled over, stay there and wait for an officer to approach.
Step 2: When Approached by the Officer, Be polite
From the moment an officer spots you, they’ll be tracking every movement you make and every word you say. If your behavior seems erratic, aggressive, or suspicious, it can be used as evidence against you in your case. Put the vehicle in park, place your hands on the wheel, and wait to be approached by the officer.
Don’t reach into your pockets or glove compartment, even to look for your insurance and registration. Don’t get out of the vehicle. Wait patiently and calmly until you receive further instructions. If you’re nervous while you wait, taking some deep breaths can help with your anxiety.
Once the officer has reached the vehicle, be cordial with them. There’s no need to overdo it to the point of sounding sarcastic, but showing some respect can certainly help your case. Follow any direct commands given by the officer to either hand over documents, roll down your window further, or exit the vehicle.
Step 3: Be Honest & Limit Your Information
Legally you have to comply with the officer’s demands to avoid being charged with resisting arrest… But here’s your chance to exercise your constitutional rights. Enforce your right to remain silent when asked questions that could be potentially self-incriminating.
If you’ve been asked about how many drinks you’ve had and you can honestly say zero, then say just that. If you were out with friends and had a drink or two over a long dinner and you feel comfortable with your decision to drive, then explain that to the officer. You can tell them, “I had a couple of beers over the course of dinner. My last one was about an hour ago.” Provide them the full context of the story to help them conclude that you’re likely not legally impaired.
Remember, you never want to lie during your arrest. But if you think there is any chance you’re over the legal limit, your honestly will likely be self-incriminating. If you want to improve your chances of fighting your DWI charge, now is the time to remain silent. If asked, you can respond with, “I have been advised not to answer any questions.” Your reluctance to answer questions will probably lead to your arrest or the automatic suspension of your license, but these are consequences you faced regardless of your response. The less incriminating evidence you give during your arrest, the more opportunities your lawyer will have to create a successful defense.
Step 4: If Asked To Take A Breathalyzer Test, Refuse If There Is Any Chance You Will Blow .08 or Higher.
During a DWI arrest, the officer may request you take a sobriety test to prove your innocence. There are a few different tests that can be conducted, but there’s no benefit to submitting to these tests if you know you are over the limit. Once you deny the testing, the officer is going to arrest you, and you’ll automatically have your license suspended for one year, known as “chemical revocation.”
You may be requested to take a breathalyzer test. This is a relatively indisputable way to determine your BAC, in turn, determining your level of impairment. If you blow over the limit, you’ll be arrested, which will be used as evidence against you. Your best option is often to simply refuse the test.
You may be requested to perform a field sobriety test. These tests can be complicated, requiring dexterity and balance that many people fail to perform 100% even without any impairment. Again, any evidence from these tests will be a detriment to your case and should be declined.
If arrested, once you arrive at the police station, they can request a blood test to determine your sobriety more accurately.
All of these sobriety tests can be refused to avoid creating additional incriminating evidence and build more leverage for the lawyer who is working on your defense.
Step 5: Upon Your Release, Record As Much As Possible
If getting pulled over for DWI ended in your arrest, begin to diligently record as much information as possible as soon as you can. Document what you were doing the evening of the arrest, where you were, the times of day you were drinking, and when you stopped.
Record any notable behavior from the officer during your arrest. Did they read you your Miranda rights? Were your rights respected? Write down everything you can remember about the DWI stop. This information can be a life-changing asset to your defense.
Step 6: Contact An Experienced DWI Lawyer
As soon as possible, get in contact with a lawyer (you can get started with a free consultation). The collateral consequences of a DWI charge are not something you want to gamble with.
The advice and guidance of an experienced DWI lawyer will give you your best chances of a favorable outcome. Which could mean a reduction in your charges or potentially getting charges dropped altogether.
If you or a loved one face DWI charges in Missouri, reach out to Rose Legal Services for immediate and effective legal representation.