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What to Do if Pulled Over for a DUI

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To avoid getting on the wrong side of the law, the best course of action is to avoid drinking and driving. However, if you do get pulled over while intoxicated, there are several things you can do to help your case.

Santa Clara, CANot only is drunk driving considered to be a criminal offense in all 50 states, but there’s also a zero-tolerance policy for anyone under the age of 21 who’s caught driving with even trace amounts of blood alcohol concentration. To avoid getting on the wrong side of the law, the best course of action is to avoid drinking and driving. However, that doesn’t always happen, and if you do get pulled over while intoxicated, there are several things you can do to help your case.

Of course, one of the most important steps you could take is to hire a lawyer. Without professional legal assistance, you’d be risking far more severe consequences than you may otherwise have to endure. An experienced DUI lawyer would be able to advise you on drunk driving defense strategies, and guide you through the entire process.

That being said, the process doesn’t start when you hire a lawyer; it actually starts when you get pulled over. If you want to know what to do if you get pulled over for a DUI, just keep reading; you’ll find plenty of helpful information below.

Be cool and collected

As soon as the police officer signals you to pull over, make sure you don’t overreact; they’ll be watching for any sign of erratic driving. Pull over slowly, and make sure it’s in a safe area. Turn your car off, roll the window down, and place both of your hands on the steering wheel. It’s important that you don’t attempt to move, conceal, or throw out anything while the officer is approaching; these actions could be misinterpreted. Plus, anything you do that appears furtive or frantic could be used against you if the case ends up in court. The goal is to appear calm, cooperative, and in control of yourself.

Don’t incriminate yourself

Everyone who’s ever watched a cop show knows the beginning of the Miranda rights: “you have the right to remain silent”. This is what you should keep in mind if you’re being questioned about drunk driving. They’ll likely ask you questions about whether you’ve been drinking, or how much you’ve had to drink, which are obviously relevant to the situation. However, you aren’t legally obligated to answer those questions – and you most definitely shouldn’t, as your answers can be “used as evidence against you in a court of law”. Here’s the only information you’re legally required to share with a police officer when they pull you over:
  • Your driver’s license
  • Your proof of insurance
  • Your vehicle’s registration
  • Your name
That really isn’t too much information that you’re required to share, and everything else would just be a courtesy from you to the police officer. In the interest of a successful defense case, though, you shouldn’t answer any questions you don’t legally have to. You’ll probably also be asked “do you know why you got pulled over?”. Even if you suspect that it was for DUI, just say that you don’t know; otherwise they could say that you were indirectly admitting to driving while under the influence. Any other questions should be respectfully refused; a good strategy is to say that you decline to answer any other questions without your attorney present.

Don’t consent to having your vehicle searched

If the officer suspects that you have open containers of alcohol in your vehicle, s/he may ask to search it to look for solid evidence. This will only help the police secure a criminal DUI conviction, and not do you any good at all. Fortunately, you’re well within your rights to withhold your consent for a vehicle search. All they can do is look inside your vehicle from where they’re standing. However, keep in mind that if they find probable cause (such as seeing an open bottle, or smelling one from inside the vehicle), they can legally perform a search without a warrant, and without your consent. If this happens, make sure you don’t resist, as this could count against you.

Refuse to submit to field sobriety tests or a breathalyzer

If you’ve been pulled over (as opposed to being formally arrested for a DUI), you’re under no obligation to complete these tests. Plus, they’re notoriously inaccurate, and can be botched for all kinds of reasons. For example, most field sobriety tests can be failed by perfectly sober people – all it takes is an uneven walking surface, anxiety at being pulled over, a lack of light, or something else that could result in tripping or uneven movements. Breathalyzers aren’t much better, as improper maintenance or storage can result in variations as much as 0.02. This means that you could be driving with a BAC of 0.06, but blow a 0.08, which is enough to warrant an arrest and DUI charges.  If you end up getting arrested, you’ll be legally required to complete a breath or blood test; however, it’s much better to be tested at the police station than on the side of the road. 

What happens if you get arrested for a DUI?

You’ll be taken to a police station and booked for the offense; most people are released when they post bail. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for a judge to approve the release. When you appear in court, a guilty plea will result in court-imposed punishments (these could include jail time, a suspended license, fines, etc.). If you plead not guilty, you’ll get a trial date, and the opportunity to fight the charges. This is what lawyers typically recommend, since with the right legal defense, it’s often possible to reduce the consequences of any DUI charge.

The takeaway

In conclusion, navigating the challenges of a DUI stop requires knowledge, calmness, and a strategic approach. Remembering your rights and obligations is crucial. You should provide only the necessary information to the police, such as your driver's license, proof of insurance, vehicle registration, and name, while politely declining to answer further questions without your attorney present. Additionally, you have the right to refuse consent for a vehicle search and to decline field sobriety tests or a roadside breathalyzer, as these may not always be accurate and can be used against you in court. However, once arrested, you must comply with breath or blood tests at the police station. Hiring a skilled DUI lawyer is essential, as they can offer valuable advice and defense strategies, potentially reducing the severity of your charges. Remember, the best way to avoid a DUI charge is to not drink and drive in the first place.


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