Being pulled over is a harrowing experience for most folk. If you have been pulled over, odds are, people passing you by are thanking their lucky stars they are not in your shoes. This is because an officer pulls drivers over when they are suspicious of said drivers. These officers will investigate the driver rigorously to either confirm or allay those suspicions. The rigor of these investigations often feel like the Spanish Inquisition to the driver. However, despair not! The following sections will show you how to maneuver such interactions to ensure you continue to have the upper hand even if you have in fact been drinking and driving.
Let us start from the first moment that the police officer pulls you over. If you get pulled over for a DWI, there are certain things you need to remember.
- be cooperative, polite and respectful
- turn off your vehicle
- place your hands on the steering wheel where they are clearly visible
- do not lie; you may refuse to answer a question, but you should not lie
- do not appear arrogant and aggressive
Being cooperative with the police means that you should provide the officer with your license, your registration, and your insurance. However, once he starts asking you questions about your alcohol consumption, you are at perfect liberty to say, “Officer, I’m not going to answer those questions.”
Being cooperative with the police and being polite does not, however, mean making their case for them. You are not obliged to answer any questions about whether you were drinking or not. If you have been drinking, and you believe that you are impaired or intoxicated, you do not have to answer any questions about how much you had to drink or where you were drinking.
It is crucial to always be cooperative with the police. However, telling them how much you had to drink, thereby strengthening the evidence against you, is precluded from that. You are under no obligation to divulge this information. You are also not required to answer questions as to where and how much you had to drink when you are pulled over for a suspected DWI.
- You should be cooperative with the officer and provide him with your license and registration.
- You may politely refuse to answer any questions asked of you.
Understanding Sobriety Tests
If you have been pulled over for a suspected DWI in the state of New York, the officer will likely have you step out of your vehicle for standard sobriety tests. The reason the officer will ask you to perform these sobriety tests is to ascertain whether you are in fact intoxicated, or had merely been driving erratically because you were just another tired driver on the road. These are the tests when the officer has gotten you out of the vehicle and wants you to perform certain field sobriety tests on the side of the road. The most common are:
HGN Test, or Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: An officer will ask you to look at a pen as he moves it from side to side. The purpose is to look for any eye movements indicative of alcohol consumption.
Walk and Turn Test: You will be asked to walk nine steps, heel to toe, in a straight line. The officer will detect how you are walking and if you are using your arms to maintain balance. Falling down will be indicative of intoxication.
One-Legged Stand: You will be asked to raise one of your legs and hold it up and count for 30 seconds. The officer will look to see if you can keep your leg up for that time.
Finger to Nose Test: This test requires you to extend your arms out and touch your nose, typically three times, whilst remaining completely straight.
Romberg’s Test: The officer will ask you to keep your arms by your side while standing at attention. You will also be asked to tilt your head back and hold it there. The officer will look to see if you are swaying side to side.
Alphabet Test: The officer will ask you to recite the alphabet beginning to end, or starting the alphabet at a certain letter and then finishing it up. The officer is looking to see if you can do this and follow directions.
The million-dollar question is this: Should you take these tests, or should you refuse them?
While a refusal to take the aforementioned field sobriety tests might be interpreted against you, it is important to remember that you are under no obligation to take the field sobriety tests. You may take them if you feel certain you will do well on them. Conversely, you may refuse to take them without incurring any penalties. You are under no obligation to take any of those tests. You can refuse each and every one of those without penalty. This will prevent the officer from gathering evidence that may be harmful to your case.
- Field sobriety tests are used to ascertain if you are intoxicated.
- You may refuse to take the field sobriety tests without fear of any penalties whatsoever.
The “Breath Tests”
There are two different “breath tests” that an officer might ask you to submit to. The first is the AlcoSensor test. This is a breath-screening test. This is a preliminary roadside test. This test simply determines whether or not there is a presence of alcohol in the person’s breath. It is important to note that this test is not reliable enough to determine the concentration of alcohol in the suspect’s blood. The purpose of this test is solely to establish probable cause to make an arrest. This test is inadmissible in court.
If you have been asked to submit to an AlcoSensor Test, you are not obligated to comply. You may refuse to take the test. This refusal will prevent the officer from gathering evidence which could hurt your case. Such a refusal is considered a traffic infraction only, and not a criminal offense.
The second test, which is the more popularized one, is the Breathalyzer Test. This test is a chemical test and is performed only at the police station following an arrest. This test will be used to determine the exact blood alcohol content level in your system. The results of this test will also be used by the prosecution to implicate you in court.
There are several other chemical tests that, like the Breathalyzer, determine the exact blood alcohol content in your system. These may include blood tests and urine tests. The officers will ask you to either deposit a sample or permit them to extract one for the purpose of these tests.
Refusing these chemical tests is a more complex matter. The severity of the repercussions of such a refusal must be weighed against the repercussions of your test results and history of prior offences. While you may refuse these chemical tests also, it is not always wise to do so. There is no definitive answer. It is perhaps prudent to ask to speak to an attorney at this point. Do bear in mind that if you refuse to take the chemical tests back at the station, the DMV will impose sanctions on top of any conviction you will receive. They will impose an automatic one-year revocation of your driver’s license for a refusal of that chemical breath test.
- Refusing a roadside AlcoSensor test is a traffic infraction and not a criminal offense.
- Refusing the Breathalyzer tests and other chemical tests at the police station will result in punitive sanctions imposed by the DMV on top of your DWI conviction.