Attorney at Law

What to do if you get pulled over for a DUI

James Parker
February 16, 2022
Last reviewed by
Boruch Burnham, Esq.
February 16, 2023

You’ve been pulled over for what you assume is a DUI (driving under the influence), and you need to know what to do fast. Here’s a quick guide on what you should do.

1. Pull your car over to a safe area carefully

If you’re driving down the road and suddenly hear a police car’s sirens and see the flashing lights, you should immediately pull over. 

Just be sure to slow the car down gradually and pull over to a safe area on the side of the highway or road. Remember, the way you respond from the moment the sirens go on until the end of the encounter, you are making an impression on the officer and he or she is deciding how to react based on this information.

2. Be as polite as possible to the officer

This one is easier said than done, but although you may not feel calm at all, there are ways for you to appear calm, and this can help your situation.

  • Take a deep breath and exhale slowly. In through your nose and out through your mouth. You’ll be surprised at how much this exercise actually calms you down.
  • Turn off the car and gently place both hands on the upper half of the steering wheel, emphasis on gently. This will show the officer that you intend to cooperate and don’t want any trouble.
  • Smile. It does not have to be an extra large smile. It can even be a smirk. But this will help you calm down as well, and every little bit helps.

3. Exercise your constitutional right to remain silent

When first pulled over by an officer, the only things you are required to do is step out of the vehicle and provide your name, address, date of birth, and proof of insurance. Remember: your rights against self-incrimination under the United States constitution always apply regardless of state. Thus you are not required to tell them where you are coming from, where you are going, or anything else. You can simply say something along the lines of “I wish to exercise my right to remain silent.”

4. Blood alcohol content (BAC) tests, and whether you should refuse them

Once the officer asks you to step out of the vehicle, they will most likely ask you to submit to  standardized field sobriety Tests (FSTs) - which includes a gaze nystagmus test, walk and turn test, and one-leg stance test.

While there are multiple forms of evidence that can be used to support a DUI conviction, positive blood alcohol content (BAC) levels are the best form of proof.

Field sobriety tests. When an officer pulls you over and suspects that you may be intoxicated or impaired, they will likely ask you to undergo the standardized field sobriety tests (FSTs)—which includes a gaze nystagmus test, walk and turn test, and one-leg stance test. You have the right to refuse these tests, and unlike breathalyzer and blood tests, you may not be penalized for your refusal, nor may it be used against you as proof in any civil or criminal proceedings relating to a DUI charge. However, if you refuse the officer will likely request that you take a breathalyzer test anyway.

Breathalyzer tests. Every state has implied consent laws under which each driver is deemed to have given their advance consent to agree to have their BAC levels tested as a condition of obtaining a driver’s license and operating their vehicle on state roads. Under these laws, your refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test can be a civil/administrative violation and in a few states a crime as well.

In most states, your refusal can result in the automatic suspension of your license, fines, and even jail time. Also keep in mind that you can be convicted of a DUI, even without positive BAC test results, based on other evidence including the office’s testimony of your driving and behavior at the scene (e.g., erratic driving, slurred speech, bloodshot eyes).

Blood tests. Unlike breathalyzer tests, refusals for which both civil and criminal penalties may be imposed, the US Supreme Court ruled that only civil penalties may be imposed for blood test refusals unless the officer has obtained a warrant. That said, officers can now apply for electronic warrants through their mobile devices that can be issued by judges on the spot if you are arrested due to the officer’s reasonable suspicion that you are intoxicated. These warrants allow them to obtain a blood sample against your will in some states, and in other states while they may not force you to take it, you will face criminal contempt charges and other severe penalties.

In conclusion, whether you should agree to submit to BAC testing can vary greatly based on the state and surrounding facts and circumstances. However, it is generally recommended not to refuse—especially if your BAC levels are positive but relatively low and/or there are no previous DUI or test refusal offenses on your record.

5. Record everything that occurs during the traffic stop and the rest of your encounter. 

As mentioned above, depending on your circumstances and BAC levels, you may eventually end up facing legal repercussions which may include anything from fines, the revocation of your license, and even jail time. As such, it’s important that you record the entire encounter so that you or your attorney can later challenge the legality of the traffic stop, the officer’s conduct, and many other background facts that can significantly affect the outcome of your case.    

6. Find a lawyer ASAP

You have a race against the clock to find an attorney that will defend you and represent you in court if it comes to that, so make sure it’s someone you feel you can trust and feel confident with. We have many   DUI lawyers who are skilled and experienced in representing and defending people facing or convicted of DUI charges and, so find one here now that practices in your area.

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