Your Rights in a DUI Stop

If you were charged with a DUI, you may be wondering if your situation is typical or if maybe the officers who stopped you acted inappropriately.  Here is how a typical DUI arrest occurs.

The Stop

Most likely, you were driving your car when you were stopped by a pair of law enforcement officers for either obvious signs of impairment, such as swerving in your lane or other erratic driving, or some violation of the law (for anything from a broken taillight to speeding—it doesn’t make any difference). As long as the officers had probable cause to believe you were either violating any law or were under the influence of alcohol or a drug, they have a right to pull you over.

If the police truly had no probable cause to pull you over, if your case goes to trial you can bring a motion to suppress, which can result in the entire case being thrown out.

The Officer’s Observations

Once you were pulled over, you were asked to produce your license and registration. If you seriously fumbled your attempts to get your documents, or there was any evidence of alcohol or drug use—typically smells emanating from your breath or, in the case of marijuana, the smoke—you were asked to step out of the car. From this point on, every move you made was carefully observed for possible evidence of impairment and noted for later use against you. These observations will pop up in the police report, which you will see for the first time in your arraignment. 

Learn more about DUI and DWI.

The Inquisition

Once out of the car or even while you were still in it, you were asked if you had had anything to drink recently (or similar questions if marijuana or another drug was implicated). If you were like most people who had been drinking, you might have said, “just a beer or two with dinner” or some other underestimation about how much you drank. Oops. Law enforcement personnel engaged in traffic regulation have heard those lines so many times that they’re almost probable cause on their own for them to go further. Even worse, if for any reason your case goes to trial and you truthfully testify that you had four or five beers instead of the original two, the prosecution will hammer you for having lied to the officer. While this may be the most human thing to do under the circumstances, the jury may not see it that way.

When Your Car May Be Searched

If the police suspect drug use or have reason to suspect that drugs might be in your car, they have a right to search the car without getting a warrant. The search may include the trunk, the glove box, and even closed containers (although the police will sometimes get a warrant for them if it’s convenient). The police will typically ask if you will consent to search, and if you say yes you can’t challenge the search later. If you make it clear that you don’t consent and they proceed to search without a warrant, you sometimes can get the results of the search suppressed on the ground the officers lacked probable cause.

Next, the officer probably gave you a DUI Preliminary Alcohol Screen Test (PAS)

Excerpted and adapted from Beat Your Ticket: Go to Court & Win, by David W. Brown (Nolo).