If you have been pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you may feel anxious and confused. However, even if you are sure that you have done nothing wrong, you should behave politely and calmly rather than escalating the interaction, which could lead to additional charges. Depending on your situation, you may be able to use the events leading up to the stop or the police officer’s conduct during the stop in a defense to any DUI charge that results from it.
Basis for the Stop
First, you should be aware that an officer cannot just pull over your vehicle based on a whim or a hunch that you might be driving drunk. They must have a reasonable suspicion that they can articulate that you have violated the law. This does not necessarily mean a reasonable suspicion that you have been drinking or using drugs. The officer might stop you for running a red light, making an improper lane change, or violating another traffic rule. The stop would be permissible on this basis, and then the officer would be able to make a DUI arrest if they observe indications of intoxication during the course of interacting with you.
On the other hand, if the officer lacks a reasonable basis for the stop, you likely can get any evidence from the stop suppressed from your case. (This is an argument that you will need to make; the court will not automatically suppress the evidence.) For example, if an officer saw you walk out of a bar and start driving, but you drive safely and obey traffic laws while the officer follows you, the fact that you walked out of a bar would not give the officer a reasonable basis to make the stop.
Refusal to Submit to Testing
Officers use two main types of tests to determine a driver’s intoxication: field sobriety tests and chemical tests. Field sobriety tests are less reliable than chemical tests and can be affected by a wide range of factors, such as fatigue, medications that a driver may be taking, or pre-existing medical conditions. You are not required to submit to a field sobriety test upon an officer’s request in most states. The unreliability of results from these tests may be a reason to refuse them.
By contrast, a driver must submit to chemical testing in most states under implied consent laws. The idea behind these laws is that you automatically consent to have your blood alcohol content (BAC) tested for intoxication when you drive on the roads of that state. This does not mean that you cannot refuse a test, but you will face penalties for the refusal. A driver generally will have their license suspended for a certain period, such as six months or a year, based on the refusal. Also, a refusal does not necessarily prevent the police and prosecution from proving a DUI charge if other evidence shows that you were intoxicated. If you refused a test and then were convicted of DUI anyway, you may face harsher penalties than if you had not refused. Thus, it is generally wise to consent to a breathalyzer test.
While most DUI stops are unplanned events involving one officer and one driver, sometimes law enforcement will set up a sobriety checkpoint in a certain location. Most but not all states permit these checkpoints, which must meet certain requirements to comply with the Constitution. Law enforcement must have a logical reason for choosing the location of a checkpoint, and they must give notice in advance to the public. Checkpoint procedures must be conducted in a neutral manner so that certain types of drivers are not singled out. The checkpoint must last only for a limited, reasonable time. If you were arrested for DUI following a stop at a sobriety checkpoint, you may be able to defend the case by arguing that law enforcement did not follow appropriate procedures at the checkpoint.