Interacting with law enforcement can be intimidating and overwhelming, especially if you have not experienced this before. A traffic stop for suspected drunk driving is scary, and it is important to know your rights from the very first second you see the flashing lights in your rearview mirror. When you understand your rights, you will be in a better position from which to protect yourself and know if something is wrong.
Minnesota law enforcement views drunk driving as a serious criminal offense. The penalties associated with a conviction can include loss of your license, time behind bars, mandatory treatment program attendance, expensive fines and more. That does not include other consequences, such as damage to your personal and professional reputation. Knowing your rights will also help as you defend yourself and shield your future interests.
Once the police pull you over
Once you see that an officer is attempting to pull you over, it is important to do so as quickly and as safely as possible. He or she may approach your car window and speak to you about the reason for the traffic stop. To stop a driver, law enforcement must have a reasonable suspicion that a crime or traffic violation is or has been committed- a standard less than probable cause. This means they must articulate a valid reason to stop a vehicle, such as swerving, speeding, driving erratically, to name a few justifications. The following may help you protect yourself during a DWI traffic stop:
- Be polite to the officer, but do not admit to any wrongdoing.
- Keep your license and registration in a place where you can easily access it.
- Remember that you do not have an obligation to provide the officer with any more information beyond providing your license and other documents.
- If an officer asks if you have been drinking, you do not have to make an admission one way or another.
- The officer may ask you to submit to sobriety tests if they suspect you may be impaired by alcohol or controlled substances- such tests may include a walk-and-turn, one leg stand, nystagmus (eye), reciting the alphabet, and touching your nose.
- You are not legally obligated to perform these sobriety tests and often times it provides police with more evidence of impairment. Note, if you do refuse to submit to sobriety tests the officer will likely ask you to take a portable breath test (PBT)- which you also are not legally obligated to take.
- Refusal to submit to a PBT requested by the officer, however, will likely result in an arrest and a trip to the police station where further chemical testing (blood, breath, or urine) will be conducted.
- Refusal to submit to a chemical test at the police station or hospital will result in criminal charges and automatic loss of your license for a minimum of one year.
- Before being asked to take a chemical test, the officer must advise you of your right to speak with an attorney before the chemical test is conducted- something every driver should do as the officer must provide you with a phone and phone books to contact an attorney.
If you believe that you experienced a violation of your rights at any point during a suspected DWI traffic stop, you do not have to stay silent. It is possible to challenge any charges against you, fighting for a reduction or possibly even a dismissal of all charges. As soon as possible after a DWI arrest or traffic stop, you may benefit from seeking an explanation of the legal options available to you.