Contrary to popular belief, in Washington a police officer cannot simply pull you over based on a “hunch”; there has to be a viable cause, or what is referred to as “reasonable suspicion” for the stop. Be it a minor traffic violation such as running a red light or perhaps an even lesser infraction like a defunct headlight, the officer in question cannot initiate a traffic stop based strictly on the fact the he/she thinks you may have been drinking. That said, assuming you are pulled over as a result of a valid suspicion, being knowledgeable about your rights at that moment and knowing precisely how to act, speak and behave is critical for any future DUI defense.
Understand that if you have been drinking and/or are intoxicated, from the very start the officer will be looking for evidence of this. This encounter goes beyond merely producing the requisite documents, this is about a police officer gathering evidence against you every step of the way in an effort to prove that you are under the influence and are subsequently violating DUI laws.
For instance, fumbling about in the glove compartment for your registration and insurance will suggest that perhaps you are somewhat off kilter and thus inebriated. Get these documents together prior to the officer approaching the vehicle. Beyond that, once he/she does come to the car, roll down your window and act accordingly. Be polite, do not present yourself as argumentative, or especially as any sort of threat. Remember, the officer is observing every single move you make.
If they do suspect that you have been drinking, they may ask you to step out of the car and submit to a field sobriety test. In Washington, this test is strictly voluntary; you do not have to do it. Most law enforcement agents will not however, necessarily be very forthcoming about this information. You should ask to speak to an attorney at this point because, despite the tests being voluntary, your refusal to take them may be admitted against you in court. Therefore, seeking an experienced DUI lawyer’s advice during this critical moment is most likely going to be your best bet.
If you do refuse the sobriety test, the officer could then decide to place you under arrest depending on how suspicious he/she is of your actions, behavior and general observable state. The other type of test administered at the scene would be the portable breath test. As with the field sobriety test, you can refuse. However, this is a good test to take as it is not admissible in court to convict you (although it’s result can establish probable cause to arrest you). Usually, if you refuse the portable breath test then you will be arrested.
If you are consequently taken into custody, you absolutely need to contact a lawyer immediately. We all know the part of the Miranda Rights that reads, “anything you say can and will be held against you…” This is why all you say is: “I wish to speak with my attorney.” And the Miranda warnings are confusing. They say if you cannot afford an attorney then one will be appointed to you. This makes it sound like you have to see a judge before you can get a lawyer. That is not true. There is a free on-call public defender available to give you advice 24 hours a day.
A DUI can ruin a life, more than that it can ruin the life of an entire family. If you have been arrested on suspicion of DUI, first it is so important that you understand your rights as the sequence of events unfolds. Secondly, it is perhaps even more critical that you get in touch with a highly skilled Pierce County / Tacoma DUI defense attorney who can guide you through the process and provide you with the best counsel possible. Please call or email Smith & White, PLLC – we will give you a free case analysis.