DWI Traffic Stops Part One: Don’t Answer Those Innocent Little Questions!

Most of us grew up respecting police officers and the hard jobs they have. As a Raleigh DWI Lawyer and former Prosecutor, I can tell you that they don’t have an easy job. When we are stopped by a police officer for a basic traffic violation (speeding, running a red light), or suspicion of DWI, we have a natural inclination to follow the officer’s instructions because that’s just how we were raised, we don’t want to get in further trouble, and lots of times feel if we comply with what the officer wants, the encounter will end and we will be on our way.

From the point that an officer smells any odor of alcohol coming from the passenger area of a motor vehicle, a DWI investigation has begun. The officer is trying to build a case. If it’s late, they are probably going to assume you are over the limit. If you are chewing gum or have breath mints or smoking a cigarette, they will think you are trying to mask the odor of alcohol.

If you haven’t pulled the registration out of your glove box since the Clinton Administration and can’t remember exactly where it is, the officer may well describe it in court as “fumbling for registration.” If you have a lisp or stumble over your words because you are nervous, you can bet that is going to go down in a police report as “slurred speech.” Allergies? “Your honor, the driver had red, glassy eyes.” This may sound like a jaded Raleigh DWI Lawyer talking, but years of DWI trials in District Court would teach you otherwise.

When the officer stops you, you must provide license and registration. It’s the law. You should comply with the officer’s directive to get out of the car. If he or she tells you that you are under arrest, you should politely put your arms behind your back. Everything else is just helping them build a case against you.
Do not answer any questions about how much you have had to drink. Don’t answer where you were coming from or where you are headed. There is a polite way to do this without ruffling any feathers. “I appreciate your concern, Officer, but I am not going to answer any questions.” Leave it at that. If they continue to ask, remember your right to remain silent.

In the next blog, we will discuss field sobriety testing and why you shouldn’t do the tests.