Many people are under the impression that DUIs only apply to alcohol-related traffic violations. The truth is, you can be charged with DUI for being found driving under the influence of nearly any inebriating or intoxicating substance. This means that marijuana, illicit drugs of any kind, and even prescription drugs could get one in trouble for driving under the influence.
DUI Stops And Investigations
A traffic stop can occur for many reasons – an officer may pull you over for speeding or poor driving of any kind. More often than not, DUI cases begin with a much more minor driving infraction such as this. But, if you are driving under the influence, a simple traffic stop can quickly lead to something else.
If the investigating officer notices the odor of an intoxicant – or if they ask you if you have been drinking and you admit to consuming some inebriating substance – what began as a stop for a simple traffic infraction can become an on-site DUI investigation.
Officers will commonly perform field sobriety tests to determine whether or not you should be allowed to continue driving. You may be asked to step out of your vehicle to perform these tests and submit to a breathalyzer or portable breath test (PBT). Each of these steps will give the officer insight into your level of sobriety and overall driving capability. Officers are specially trained to identify signs of impairment.
Your Obligation To Comply
It’s important to remember that you are never required to answer questions from law enforcement.
This isn’t a matter of being rude. In fact, it may save you from falsely incriminating yourself. You can be completely innocent of any and all potential investigations or charges and still find yourself in trouble. Because of this, I always advise that people never answer questions from law enforcement.
You can very simply decline to comment in a polite manner by saying, “I understand that you have a job to do, but I am not comfortable answering any questions from law enforcement without the advice of an attorney.”
While your right to remain silent is very straightforward, deciding whether or not to comply with requests to perform roadside tests can be more complicated.
Depending on the specific situation you find yourself in, there are likely a variety of “right” or “wrong” answers to this question. Therefore, the best general advice is asking to speak with an attorney.
If you’ve been stopped and asked to submit to a breath test, you can request to speak with a lawyer right away. The officer should then put you in contact with a public defender. At which point, you can have a discussion with legal counsel to make a determination then and there.
It is important to note: If you do refuse a breath test, your license may be revoked for up to one year. What’s more, law enforcement could obtain a search warrant to perform a blood test for alcohol content and any other substances that might be in your system.
After You’ve Been Released From Custody
Above all else, it’s essential to contact a lawyer right away. Most lawyers will offer a free initial consultation, so there’s no financial obligation to get some up-front legal counsel. You can ask them questions about your case, gain an understanding of how the process might work, learn what’s going to be required of you, and more.
You should also remember that you may not have a significant amount of time to request a Department of Licensing (DOL) hearing.
After your arrest, your driver’s license will remain intact for a short period of time. However, you will only have seven days in which to request a DOL hearing before disciplinary action is taken on your driving privileges.
By requesting a DOL hearing, you will have the opportunity to contest the matter before a hearing examiner (someone similar to a judge). Based on the information you present, the examiner will determine whether you have any grounds for a dismissal of the disciplinary action and make a determination on your driving license privileges. A failure to request this hearing can result in your license being suspended or revoked with no opportunity to explain your side of the situation.
If your license is suspended or revoked before or after a DOL hearing, you may be able to obtain a restricted license so that you can legally drive throughout the duration of the disciplinary period.
A restricted license is typically called an Ignition Interlock License because it requires that you have an ignition interlock system in your car, sometimes referred to as a “Blow-and-Go” device. To apply for a restricted license, you must also obtain state-certified SR-22 insurance and submit an application (along with a fee) to the DOL.
Again, in Washington State, you only have seven days in which to request a hearing following your arrest. For this and many other reasons, it’s important to speak to a lawyer as soon as possible.
Preparing A Defense Strategy
You have inherent rights to privacy and freedom for government intrusion. It is important to review whether your rights were violated in any DUI arrest or investigation. When preparing a strategy for my clients, I’m always looking into the basis for law enforcement’s decision to intervene. This means asking questions such as:
- What was the initial reason for the traffic stop?
- Did the officer have reasonable grounds to interfere with your privacy and stop your vehicle?
- Did the officer have reasonable suspicion that you might be under the influence?
- Were the procedural steps properly followed while administering the DUI investigation?
- If there was a search warrant for a blood/breath test, was proper protocol followed to obtain that warrant?
There are countless factors in a traffic stop that are important for your legal defense to investigate. From determining whether the breath test device was in proper order, to making sure that the arresting officer was adequately trained in roadside test administration – each piece of evidence submitted by law enforcement must be verified.