The Know-How

Dealing With A Police Stop

Being stopped by the police can always be unsettling, even if you have done nothing wrong. There are some things you should know if you are ever stopped by an officer. These suggestions are specifically for when you are stopped for Driving Under the Influence, but they may help you in any interaction with the police.

  1. Be Polite. This cannot be emphasized enough. Arguing with an officer will make them more suspicious of you, and if your case ever goes to trial, it will make the jury less sympathetic to you.

  2. Do Not Lie. If you know you have done something wrong, you do not have to tell that to an officer, but do not lie about it. Officers are trained to recognize signs of drug and alcohol use. If they smell alcohol on you, and you say that you have had nothing to drink, they will become more suspicious of you. If your case goes to trial, the prosecutor will tell the jury that you lied because you knew that you were guilty. If you have had a beer or two, admit it, it’s not illegal to drive with a small amount of alcohol in your system. On the other hand, if you have had 8 drinks, do not tell an officer you have had nothing to drink. The best thing you can do at this point is politely tell the officer that a lawyer told you not to answer that sort of question.

  3. Answer As Few Questions As Possible. It is rarely in your interest to talk to the police, and most of the time you do not have to, so tell them as little as possible. Always remember rule #1 - you do not want to say something like “I’m not talking to you.” You should go ahead and answer basic questions, things like “What’s your name?” or “Where do you live?” Once the officer asks you something that relates to the stop, such as “How much have you had to drink?” or “Do you have any drugs?”, if you cannot honestly answer that you have done nothing wrong, your reply should be a polite, “I’m sorry officer, but I’ve been told by an attorney not to answer questions like that.” Refusing to speak to an officer cannot be held against you.

  4. Do Not Believe Everything An Officer Says. Police are paid to arrest people for criminal violations, and they are good at getting the evidence they need to do so. If an officer says, “Do this test, and I’ll let you go home,” it’s a good bet that you are already going to be arrested, and they want one more piece of evidence to make the case airtight. If an officer says, “I already have proof that you’re drunk, so you might as well admit it,” it probably means that they aren’t confident in their evidence, and they want a confession to secure things. The reason police are required to tell people that anything they say can be used against them is because it will be. So be polite, and answer as few questions as possible.

  5. Be Ready When the Officer Approaches. One of the most common things officers report when they arrest someone is that the person had difficulty locating their license. The report will sound like you were drunkenly fumbling around and could not find your license because you could not see straight. This does not take into account the natural nervousness you will feel when being stopped, but it is best to avoid the situation completely. When an officer turns on their lights, you should immediately turn on your signal to indicate that you are aware of their presence and pull off at the next safe spot. Try to avoid bumping a curb, as you can guarantee that that will appear in the officer’s report. Once you have stopped, retrieve your license BEFORE the officer approaches. Also, it is a good general idea to make sure your registration and proof of insurance are always easy to retrieve in case an officer asks for these. An officer cannot say you had trouble locating your license if you had it ready when they knocked on your window.

  6. Don’t Do Field Sobriety Tests. Field sobriety tests are voluntary. An officer may not tell you that, but it is true. Many people believe that if you do well on your field sobriety tests, an officer will simply let you go. The truth is that most of the time, if an officer is asking you to do field sobriety tests, then they have already decided that they are going to arrest you. If you have not been drinking, or honestly only had a very small amount of alcohol, it may be ok to take the tests. Remember that it is the officer who will be deciding how well you have done, and even if you believe you did well on your test, an officer’s report will likely say that you made several mistakes, and in court it will be your word against theirs. If an officer asks you to take a breath test at your car, this is considered a ‘portable breath test,’ and is also voluntary. This device is very unreliable, and you should not take this test if you have had more than 1 beer. Refusing to take these tests takes a lot of ammunition away from the prosecutor.

  7. Take The Breath Test At The Station. It is almost always in your best interest to take the breath test when you are arrested. The reason for this is that the prosecutor does not need a breath test to convict you of DUI, and refusing to take one can potentially be used to make it appear that you were aware that you were guilty. Also, there are penalties for refusing a breath or blood test. Your license will automatically be suspended for 1 year by the department of licensing. This means that, even if you get the court case against you dismissed, the simple fact that you refused the test will result in the loss of your license for a full year. The only way you will be able to continue driving is with an ignition interlock device, which is expensive and embarrassing. Also, refusing a breath test may result in higher penalties if you are convicted of DUI. If you feel that the test result at the station is incorrect, you do have the right to go to a hospital after you are released and get a blood test done at your own expense.

  8. Ask For An Attorney. As soon as you are arrested, tell the officer that you want to talk to an attorney. Even if you cannot afford to hire a private attorney, a public defender will be made available to you - even in the middle of the night. Asking for an attorney protects you, not only by getting someone to advise you, but also because the police are required to stop asking you questions until you have the chance to speak to an attorney. Be polite, but once you have been arrested, ask for an attorney.

  9. Gather Your Own Evidence. Everything that the police record will be intended to convict you. If you can get witnesses of your own willing to testify that you were not drunk, you will do much better in court. If you are in a holding cell with other people, try to get their information. Try to find out who the booking officer is, and get a statement from them about how you appeared. If someone picks you up from the jail, ask them to make a written statement for you. If you were pulled over for crossing a line on the road or swerving, try to get a picture of the road to show that a driver would be likely to do the same as you even if they weren’t drinking.

  10. Follow up. You only have 20 days after you are arrested to contest the suspension of your license by the Department of Licensing. Police video recordings are also destroyed after a short amount of time, so make sure that you and your attorney are getting things done within the deadlines.

These are general suggestions. Each case is different, and you should contact a legal professional to discuss the specifics of your situation. Nothing in this information is intended to form an attorney/client relationship between you and the firm of Findley & Rogers, PLLC.
Contact us today to discuss your case.

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