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What to do When Stopped for DWI

What To Do (And What Not To Do)
When You Are Stopped By The Police

DISCLAIMER: I get some pretty strange emails from people who do not understand the function of a DWI Defense Lawyer. Some people believe that I somehow condone and promote drunk driving – I do not. I am, however, a vigorous and zealous defender of clients who are charged with DWI (see Article: Why Zealous Defense of DWI Charges is Important). I am not my client’s Judge or their Prosecutor; my job is to defend and I am duty bound to defend my clients with vigor and zeal.

I also believe that for most clients charged with DWI, there is a human element behind the charge itself – some clients are suffering from the disease of alcoholism, or other substance abuse, and some are suffering from some other ailments such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder which cause them to consume alcohol. Defendants charged with DWI are entitled to a zealous defense as well as empathy and understanding.

The above being said, I find it necessary to include this little “disclaimer” here  The contents of this page (and this entire site) should not lead anyone to believe that there is an easy way to “beat” a DWI charge – nor should anyone believe that I am suggesting that people drive intoxicated because a good defense is available. If you believe that I condone driving drunk, or that I am inducing people to do so, you are mistaken. With that out of the way, the following is a short list of what to do and what not to do if you are stopped by the police and suspected of DWI. Link here to view my current blog on this subject.

WHAT TO DO AND NOT TO DO WHEN PULLED OVER

INTRODUCTION: Your chances of being pulled or by police are heightened when you are driving during the late evening and early morning hours. Statistics show that more people are likely to be driving drunk during these hours. Police are keenly aware of this fact and are particularly vigilant about looking for reasons to pull cars over during these hours (e.g. speeding, failing to maintain lane, failure to signal, etc.). Of course, the best defense against a DWI is not to drive at all after consuming alcohol or drugs, regardless of the time. If, however, you are stopped and suspected of DWI, I suggest the following guidelines:

  1. Credentials. Have your credentials (license, registration and insurance) ready. Police will look for slow and fumbling hand movements as indicia of intoxication.
  2. Lights & Hands. Immediately put the car interior light(s) on and place your hands where the officer can see them. The police do not know you, and are first and foremost concerned for their safety (and the safety of other innocent citizens) – seeing your hands eliminates a possible threat.
  3. Polite. Be polite and courteous at all times – do not challenge the officer’s integrity or authority.
  4. Chit-Chat. Do not believe you can talk your way out of a DWI charge. Police are duty bound to do their jobs, including arresting someone they reasonably believe is Driving While Intoxicated. Trying to talk your way out of an arrest will usually backfire by being used against you later as an admission of your guilt.
  5. Loaded Questions. Do not answer any questions regarding whether you consumed alcohol – politely and respectfully tell the officer that you would like to speak with an attorney before answering any questions.
  6. Field Sobriety Tests. There is a school of thought which suggests that you should never agree to perform roadside sobriety tests (the heel to toe, the one leg stand, the finger to nose, etc.). Each case is different and therefore, whether to agree to perform roadside tests is, in my opinion, a difficult question to answer yes or no. The danger in refusing to perform the tests is that your refusal will be regarded by most New Jersey Judges as pretty strong circumstantial evidence of guilt. The Judge may conclude that you did not perform the tests because you would fail miserably (i.e. because you were drunk).

I see far too often however, clients who cooperate with the police to such an extent that they agree to perform tests which their physical condition(s) prohibit (e.g. they may be exhausted or fatigued, have serious medical ailments such as back or knee problems, etc.). If you suffer from any ailment(s) which would prohibit or limit your ability to perform the tests asked of you, you should inform the police and politely tell him that you would be unable to do the test(s) because of your condition. Be prepared to fully document your condition with medical reports and records if your case goes to trial.

  1. Breath Tests. Always agree to give samples of your breath – a charge of refusing to give samples of your breath is a separate charge (i.e. it will be charged in addition to the DWI). Defending a DWI charge even with a high breath reading is almost always preferable than defending a DWI and Refusal charge.

Again, be polite and deferential with the police. The time and place to challenge the authority and procedures of the police is in the court room, not during the arrest and processing.

Exercise your right to remain silent – tell the police that you respectfully decline to answer any questions without counsel present. Most clients feel compelled to make statements – giving statements is almost always tantamount to helping the State dig your grave.

One exception is that if the police ask you if you are sick, under the care of a doctor, or suffer from diabetes, provide an answer if your ailment would affect your mental or physical abilities (i.e. make you appear intoxicated). Do not answer questions regarding any drugs you are taking.

  1. Blood Test. Ask and demand that the police allow you an opportunity to get blood drawn at a local hospital. The police must have a procedure in place to afford you this right.
  2. Document.  As soon as possible, write down everything you can recall about the stop, the questions asked and the arrest. Take pictures of the scene of  the stop and the location of the roadside tests. If you  suffered from a medical condition which would have affected your ability to  have performed the balance tests or which would otherwise make you appear  intoxicated, immediately start gathering the medical records and reports to support the claim.
  3. Counsel. Hiring an attorney as soon as possible after the arrest (prior to your first scheduled appearance before the court) is to your benefit – delaying hiring counsel may hurt you. This is why: New Jersey Supreme Court guidelines establish a sixty (60) day goal to dispose of DWI charges. Since these cases take such high priority in the system and will be pushed forward by the court aggressively, it is necessary for your attorney to act swiftly in gathering information.