You don't feel drunk. A little buzzed, maybe, but certainly not over the legal limit to drive.
Suddenly there's a copper in your rear-view mirror with his lights flashing, and the person he's pulling over is you. What now? Since you were stupid enough to drink and drive, you probably deserve whatever happens next. But with the proper deportment and some streetside advice culled from lawyers and cops, you might get lucky.
First things first, they say: Make sure you have your driver's license and proof of insurance ready. It's one of the first signs policemen use to gauge your sobriety, along with odor, speech, and coordination.
When the officer ambles up to the window, he'll probably ask if you've been drinking. The advice of defense attorneys is to politely but firmly refuse to answer.
"Most people say, 'I've had a couple,'" says attorney Vincent Stafford. "That gives them probable cause to test you. Just say, 'You know what. That's not a question I wish to answer.'"
If the officer has "reasonable suspicion" that the driver has been drinking, he will move on to everyone's favorite curbside games, the field sobriety tests. These usually consist of walking a straight line, touching your nose, and reciting the alphabet.
Attorney Shane Orians characterizes sobriety tests as a catch-22 for litigious-minded drivers. "These tests are purely voluntary and only give the government more proof if the DUI is contested," he says. "Refusal to take such tests, however, can itself be evidence and lead to probable cause to conduct further tests [i.e., a Breathalyzer]."
Nevertheless, Orians believes a driver who is worried about passing the tests should refuse to take them. "It only gives the police more to use at your DUI hearing."
Orians stresses the importance of good manners and common sense. "Do not become belligerent, abusive, or argumentative," Stafford says. "Oftentimes when someone's pulled over in a DUI situation, it's not unusual to get a resisting arrest or some other type of charge on top of it."
At this point, you're likely to be either let go or feel the cold grip of handcuffs around your wrists, as the police must arrest the driver before conducting a Breathalyzer test. There's a lively debate among lawyers as to the wisdom of taking the test. Refusal to take the Breathalyzer results in an on-the-spot one-year suspension of driving privileges, though that too can be appealed.
"The problem I have with taking the Breathalyzer is that you're doing the job for the police," Orians says. "I should stress that the breath test is just one element of proving a DUI case. But it's usually the strongest evidence a prosecutor has in proving intoxication."
Stafford generally recommends taking the test. "My opinion is that you should take it, simply because there are a variety of challenges you can make," he says. "And in the long run, with a DUI, you're going to get your license back a lot faster than with a refusal."
Another reason Stafford suggests taking the test is because there's always a chance of getting the test results suppressed. Attorneys can attack the probable cause of pulling a car over, validity of the field sobriety tests leading to a Breathalyzer test, and the administration and accuracy of the test.
Always ready to troll for clients, both Orians and Stafford recommend that anyone in trouble have an attorney present before taking the Breathalyzer test. But they're quick to add that the best way to avoid a DUI is by not drinking and driving.
The Cuyahoga County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is holding its awards banquet this year at Shooters in the Flats.
IF YOU CAN'T STAND THE HEAT . . .
...don't drive through these DUI hot spots.
Cleveland Heights Lakewood
Independence Fairview Park