DUI traffic stops: know your rights

It can make you queasy if a police officer pulls you over. Naturally, you are worried that the officer is going to arrest you on suspicion of DWI or another crime. But if you keep cool, you may be able to preserve your rights and possibly get to drive away without serious criminal charges against you.

In the moment, it can feel like the police officer standing over you has all the power. But there are things you can do to protect your civil rights as much as possible, and avoid incriminating yourself.

Do not admit to anything

Remember, the officer is trying to gather as much evidence against you as they can. That includes anything you say. You may think that telling the officer you “only had one drink with dinner” will convince them to let you go. But it only provides the officer an excuse to investigate you further. Stay calm and resist the urge to try to talk your way out of trouble. Politely decline to answer any questions that might incriminate you.

Do not consent to a vehicle search

In New York, the police can search your vehicle without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe that there is evidence of a crime inside. However, if the officer asks to search your car, you should still say you do not consent. They will likely do the search anyway, but at least you have made it clear you did not give them permission. Later, if it turns out the officer lacked probable cause, the prosecutor will not have the excuse that you consented to the search anyway.

Breathalyzers and field sobriety tests

The officer will probably ask you to blow into a breathalyzer and perform field sobriety tests, such as walking a straight line and touching your finger to your nose with your arms outstretched. Again, they are trying to gather evidence against you that you have committed DWI or DWAI (driving while alcohol-impaired). You can decline these tests, but your driver’s license will be suspended for at least one year if you do, and you could be fined at least $500. However, without test results, the prosecutor is going to have a more difficult time proving a case against you.

Your rights on the street are defended in the courtroom

Even if you did everything right during your traffic stop, the officer might still arrest you for DWI or DWAI. It does not mean you will be convicted or forced to plead guilty to a crime you did not commit. Speak to a New York criminal defense attorney about your case and what can be done to help you get your license back and avoid jail.