Here’s the straight story on what to do if you’re pulled over and arrested for drunk driving.
1. Find a safe place to pull over.
Remember that, as soon as the police officer decides to pull you over for drunk driving (DUI/DWI), he starts making observations that he will put in the police report. This document can have a significant impact on the outcome of both your criminal trial and your DMV hearing. One of the first things the officer does is make a mental note of how you pull over. If you drive erratically, slow down too abruptly, or pull over in an unsafe location, the officer notes it in the report.
2. Don’t make any sudden movements.
Officers are trained to be cautious, and to protect themselves, first and foremost. They always approach the car from behind so they have a clear view, and so the driver would have to turn completely around in order to shoot or attack them. So, don’t make any sudden movements and keep your hands on the wheel at 10 and 2 o’clock.
3. Be polite.
The obvious reason to treat the officer respectfully is that you are far less likely to be arrested. If you’re rude or hostile, the officer is more likely do everything possible to get you convicted, including writing a very incriminating police report. If the officer asks you to step out of the vehicle, you must comply, otherwise you could be charged with resisting arrest.
4. Don’t answer any potentially incriminating questions, and don’t lie.
The anxiety of getting pulled over is something police officers count on. In this kind of situation, people are far more likely to incriminate themselves. You do have to give your name, license and registration to the police officer. But if the officer asks you if you’ve been drinking, or how much—and you're concerned that you might incriminate yourself—simply say, “I’m sorry, officer, but I’ve been advised not to answer any questions.”
If you have had only one or two drinks, say so. With very few exceptions, one or two drinks will not put you over the legal limit.
Lying, however, is never a good idea. If you answer a question, answer it truthfully. If you lie, and the officer knows it, the fact that you lied can be used against you in court.
5. Refuse a field sobriety test.
You are under no legal obligation to perform a field sobriety test. Field sobriety tests are one of the most effective tools at the officer’s disposal for collective evidence against you. That’s not because they are reliable indicators of intoxication. To the contrary, the value of FSTs is that they are entirely subjective. It’s completely up to the officer whether you “pass.” (For more information on the history and science behind FSTs, read the article “Are Field Sobriety Tests Accurate?”)
6. Refuse a hand-held breathalyzer.
Roadside breathalyzers (otherwise known as Preliminary Alcohol Screening tests or PASs) are notoriously unreliable, and there are countless ways to skew their results. (For more information about hand-held breathalyzers, read the article “How Police Officers Influence Breathalyzer Results”).
7. Take a chemical test at the police station.
You are obligated by law to take a chemical test at the police station. In most states, you can choose between a blood test or breath test. Many DUI lawyers advise people to take the breath tests because they're more unreliable, so their validity can be more effectively attacked in court. (For more information on the myriad problems with the breath tests, read the article “The Unreliability of the Breath Test.”)
8. Once you’ve been released, write down everything that you can remember about the night.
The more notes you take about your arrest, the easier it will be for your attorney to fight the charges against you. Include in your notes things like the following.
—what you were doing and where you were doing before you drove
—how much you had to drink
—how long after you were arrested
—how the officer behaved, any instructions he gave you
—what you said to the officer
—where you were pulled over
—when and if you were read your Miranda rights
—when you took the chemical test and how long it had been since your drank
Write down everything that you can think of, even if it doesn’t strike you as relevant.
9. Contact an attorney.
You both need and deserve an experienced DUI defense attorney who will fight for your rights. The single most important thing you can do for yourself is to find a qualified attorney who knows DUI law. (For more information on how to choose the best lawyer, read the article “How to pick a DUI attorney—know what questions to ask.”)