I mention something in every column that touches on issues related to Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in Georgia. Do not drink and drive; even if only one beer was consumed. No one wants to hurt someone else or themselves. No one wants to get arrested, go to jail, risk losing their license, pay huge fines, have insurance go through the roof, and perhaps even lose a great job.
If a person drinks and drives, no matter how conservatively, there is a real possibility that they could be stopped, arrested, and convicted of drunk driving. Even sober drivers, who have not consumed alcohol or drugs, can find themselves in the middle of a DUI investigation.
There are several things responsible drivers can do to lessen the likelihood of being stopped and charged with DUI:
1. The Vehicle - Police officers need probable cause to make a traffic stop. Reasons justifying a stop include a traffic violation, an observable defect in the vehicle’s safety equipment, or observing driving that can indicate that the driver may be intoxicated. Most of these are controllable items or situations if a person checks their vehicle on a regular basis.
2. Driving Time and Place – While not surprising, based on my experience as a DUI attorney, I have noticed that almost all my clients are pulled over between 10:00pm and 4:00am. When pulling out of a bar, rowdy event, or party during this time frame, the chances of being stopped just increase.
3. The Traffic Stop – Do’s and Don’ts – Whether drinking or not, remain calm. Nervousness is detected by well-trained officers based on several factors; particularly body language. Always keep documents like registration and the insurance card in a readily accessible location. A person does not want to have to ramble through the interior to not find these documents when they are needed. When the blue lights go on, find a safe place to pull over, always on the right side of the road whenever possible. Next, the driver needs to turn on the dome light on and place both hands on the steering wheel where the police officer can see them. This makes the officer more comfortable about their safety and conveys a sense of personal responsibility on the part of the driver.
Drivers should always be courteous and polite to the officer(s). Battles over their DUI investigation may come later. They never need to be instigated by a driver. Remember that “less is more.”
Any admission, however inconsequential, will be used against the driver. A response like “Officer, I just had a couple of beers” are red flags and can provide an officer with enough information to investigate the matter further. Without that admission she must base the decision to pursue a DUI arrest on driving, and/or mannerisms after that stop.
If the officer asks whether the driver has been drinking, the best response would be “Is there anything else you need from me, officer? Am I free to leave”
If the officer decides to continue his investigation, they will likely ask the driver to step out of the vehicle. The officer will ask the driver to perform certain physical tests, “just to prove you’re capable of driving safely.” These tests, commonly known as “field sobriety tests”, can include walking and turning, raising your leg, and following a pen with your eyes (HGN test). Taking part in these tests will not get you out of the eventual arrest. They are administered in front of the police cruiser with the video recording the driver. I cannot remember handling a case when a client “passed” the tests; including sober drivers.
You must politely decline all field sobriety tests. This includes the “alcosensor”; a small portable device used at the scene of the stop. Again, don’t argue, be belligerent, or tell the officer about your uncle from New York who is an officer. Just thank the officer and decline.
4. State’s Administered Test – The officer will either read or recite something called the “implied consent notice” after the arrest requesting a sample of the driver’s blood, breath, urine, etc. This is the one aspect of a DUI related traffic stop that I cannot responsibly provide direction on because the best decision regarding whether to take the test depends on the unique circumstances of each stop. However, if a person consents to and takes the officer’s test, he should always request an independent test to be performed at a hospital afterwards.
The consequences of a DUI conviction can be severe. For this, and many other reasons, securing the services of a proven, experienced, and trustworthy attorney is a must. If a person cannot afford to hire an attorney, he should seek the services of the public defender.
Be safe on our roads. Protect our community. Know how to handle traffic stops.