Posted on April 5, 2017 | Authored by Marshall W. Orsini, Attorney at Law
It is a situation that plays out hundreds of times every night across this country - you are out to dinner and have a couple of drinks. On your drive home, you see a police car behind you. The fear of an OWI/DUI immediately races across your mind. "How much did I drink?" "They were stretched out long enough, right?" "No way I'm over .08!" And before you know it, the police cruiser's lights are on, and you're pulled over.
You might not even have been driving erratically. The officer probably pulled you over for some other reason - a taillight is out or you rolled through that stop sign. The officer's not even thinking OWI/DUI as he first approaches your car. He enters into a casual conversation with you and appears friendly. You let your guard down, and before you know it, the signs of alcohol consumption start to betray you. You fumble through your glove compartment and drop your paperwork. Your speech begins to slur a little. And, of course, an officer's favorite in every OWI/DUI stop: the distinct smell of alcohol is pouring out of your car.
Before your stop even becomes an OWI/DUI case, there are certain things that you can do to put yourself in as good a position as possible in defending this. Operating While Intoxicated (some states refer to it as Driving Under the Influence) is a crime with serious financial consequences and a social stigma that can be difficult to imagine.
#1: Don't Drink and Drive. First and foremost, don't put yourself in the position to begin with. Calling a cab or Uber is the safest and cheapest route to go when compared to the costs of fighting an OWI/DUI. Between attorney fees, court costs, fines, and restitution, an OWI/DUI could likely cost you $5,000 to $10,000. My philosophy is that the least interaction a person can have with police officers in their life, the better off they are.
#2: Be Cooperative, but Keep Your Mouth Shut. If you are pulled over in any situation, but certainly in a suspected OWI/DUI, you should be polite and cooperative with the police officers. It's not a good idea to lie to officers, but there are times where you should certainly keep your mouth shut. This isn't being rude. The officer may even try to spin to make it sound like you have something to hide. But this is you protecting your rights - you have the right against self-incrimination. If you are pulled over, you give the officer your license, registration, and insurance, and that's it. Sit and wait. Keep your mouth shut and your hands on the wheel. Everyone thinks if they just admit to "having a couple after work", they'll be fine. "This cop's not so bad. He'll understand." Not true. The officer is looking at the totality of the circumstances to confirm his suspicion that you are under the influence, and by admitting to drinking, you have made his job that much easier.
The conversation may look something like this: if the officer asks "do you know why I pulled you over?" you respond, "no." Even if you want to know why - don't ask. Keep every answer short and simple in an OWI/DUI stop. If she asks "what have you been up to tonight?", don't lie. You can answer "Just got done dinner," but the better response is "I'm sorry ma'am, but I'd prefer not to answer any more questions." If she continues to press and asks "have you been drinking?" you continue to answer "Again, I'm not answering any of those questions." If you like, blame it on a lawyer friend of yours who once told you "not to answer voluntary questions."
You may be thinking that by refusing to answer these questions, the officer will now be convinced that you had been drinking. Maybe. But let's face it - that officer already suspected you of drinking when she saw you. She's now looking for enough reason to make this a full-blown OWI/DUI stop. And your polite refusal to answer questions alone shouldn't give her the reasonable suspicion needed.
#3: Remember That the Field Sobriety Tests and Preliminary Breathalyzer Tests Are Voluntary. The officers won't tell you this, but these are voluntary. The FSTs are notoriously subjective, meaning unless the driver absolutely nails the tests, an officer has some leeway to fail the driver if she suspects there had been drinking. The PBT is voluntary and, believe it or not, the results are typically not admissible in court. Meaning, if you had been drinking that night, you gain little in providing the PBT. These tests are designed to help an officer support her OWI/DUI arrest. When requested, your answer should be the same as before, "I'd prefer not to." If the officer presses, make it clear you're invoking your rights because most of the time, these conversations are being recorded. If you're going to get arrested, what you say now and how you act now establishes a record to allow your attorney to fight the case later on!
#4: The Datamaster (Breathalyzer). This is the test at the police station that, if you are unfortunate enough to have been arrested, you will be asked to perform. Because this test is more reliable than a PBT, the results are generally admissible in court for an OWI/DUI offense. After your arrest, officers have two hours to secure a sample from you. This is because the results of test within two hours are presumed to be the same as while operating. Within that time frame, it is probably a good idea to try and reach an attorney. Even if you were arrested and provided a Breathalyzer that shows OWI/DUI, you should contact an attorney such as one of the fine lawyers at Carr & Wright. There are ways to fight the Datamaster results.
We can all agree that OWI/DUI laws are important. The public safety aspect is crucial and is something everyone can support. However, like any law on the books, we need to ensure they're being enforced fairly and equitably. If you have been arrested for an OWI/DUI in Iowa, please call the Law Offices of Carr & Wright, P.L.C. at 515-875-4868 and ask to schedule a free consultation with either myself or any of the other fine attorneys from our firm. We use our experience in criminal law, and OWI/DUI cases specifically, to aggressively pursue the rights of our clients.