• Will Vaughn

What do I do if I'm pulled over after drinking?

When folks at the bar learn that I’m a criminal defense attorney, this is always the first question I get asked. I’ve had this discussion countless times with judges, officers, prosecutors, clients, and yes, the occasional bar patron. There are a lot of different opinions on the subject, but the following is a good general guide to follow based on my experience.

The short answer is: don’t drive after you’ve been drinking. Aside from the unpleasant experience of being arrested and charged with a crime, it’s downright dangerous for you and everyone else on the road.

However, if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of seeing the blue and red in your rearview on the way home from having a couple after-work beers, here are some helpful tips that will make my job easier as your lawyer. Disclaimer: this is not a “how-to-not-get-arrested” guide.

First things first, find a safe place to pull over as soon as possible. If you’re on a busy Houston freeway, put on your hazards, get over to the right, and find the nearest exit. If there’s not an exit in the next mile or so, find a safe spot on the shoulder. Generally, find a place that’s as safe as possible as quickly as possible.

We all know what happens next: the officer approaches your car, shines his flashlight in the cab, and asks you why you were speeding, or swerving, or ran that stop sign, etc. Believe it or not, if you’ve been drinking—especially at a bar—your car, your body, and probably your breath will smell like alcohol. Once an officer “detects a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage,” you are almost certainly going to be arrested for DWI.

Also, it’s important to remember that an officer investigation you for a possible DWI will be observing everything about you—your smell, your eyes, your speech pattern, your posture, etc. If possible, say as little and move as little as possible. If an officer asks you if you’ve been drinking, it’s best not to say anything at all. If you admit to drinking, that will be used as evidence against you. If you deny drinking, and a breath/blood test later yields any BAC, that denial can also be used against you. In general, just be politely quiet.

All the infamous field sobriety tests, like walking in a straight line, standing on one leg, touching your finger to your nose, are all designed to confirm the officer’s already well-established suspicion that you’re intoxicated. But, hear me on this: you are not required to perform any tests. Whether you think you can pass the tests, or you’re too scared to tell an officer “no,” there’s really never any good justification for performing any field sobriety tests. You are entirely within your rights to simply and politely decline to perform field sobriety tests.

Now comes the ultimate question. Do I consent to a breath test, or do I refuse? Let me be clear: every day and night in Harris and other large counties are “no-refusal.” This means that, if you chose to refuse a breath test, the officer willget a warrant to draw your blood. The only benefit to refusing is that you’ll force a warrant to be drawn up and signed, which may contain errors. It’s this humble lawyer’s opinion that, given all the factors, consenting to a breath test is better. A breath test won’t detect any other drugs in your system, it carries a potentially smaller driver’s license suspension, and I’ll get your results immediately (a blood test can take 3-4 months to process).

So, to sum it all up. First, don’t drink and drive. Your safety, the safety of other drivers, your clean criminal record, and your wallet are worth more than the risk of driving drunk. However, if you find yourself in a pinch, pull over quickly and safely, be polite but don’t say a lot, refuse all field sobriety tests, and take the breath test. If you’ve been pulled over after drinking, you’re almost guaranteed to spend the night in jail, but following these guidelines may help you and me out on the back end. Lastly, an experienced attorney is vital to fighting a DWI charge. If done properly, there’s a chance your case could be dismissed or, at the very least, we can keep your record clean. Call us. We’re always here to help.

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