Steps to Take if You are Pulled Over for DWI in Kansas City, Missouri
There can be nothing more frightening than looking at your rearview mirror and seeing red and blue lights. Even our experienced DWI lawyers can admit that when they get pulled over they get a bit nervous (because everyone does at some point). It can be even more frightening if you just had a glass of wine with dinner. Your heart starts beating harder. What do I do now? What am I supposed to say? Have I gone over the “legal limit”? Is there a chance that I will be arrested? If so, what is going to happen?
The question our DWI lawyers get most often (even from family, friends, and acquaintances) is “What am I supposed to do if I have been drinking and I get pulled over?” Since the DWI law is so complicated and confusing, if you ask 100 lawyers the same question, you will probably get 100 different answers. With our lawyers collectively working on thousands of DWI cases over the past years, we have come up with the best advice to answer this common question.
The first thing to do if you see the red and blue lights in your rearview mirror, is to find a safe place to pull over, pull as far off the road as possible (be careful not to drive into grass), and put on your blinker. Ensure that your car is in park. Most people have a cell phone with the ability to record audio. If you don’t already have an app to record audio, you should download one now! Make sure that you set your phone to record and put your phone back in your pocket. Don’t leave your cell phone in your car, this could cause you to miss out on conversations with the police officer that would be very important to your case. It’s good to ensure that your phone is locked, but that the app will still record even if it’s locked. It’s also imperative to have your phone locked with a passcode, due to the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has a ruling that says that a law enforcement officer is allowed to search through unlocked cell phones. Even though we hate to say it, it’s very possible that police officer wouldn’t have second thoughts about turning off your recording app and deleting the recording.
Once your phone has begun to record, you must pull out your license and insurance card. To make the process easier, you should have a copy of your insurance card in a location that is easy to find; for example, your center console. In the past, officers have testified that a driver was having “difficulty locating his [or her] license or insurance.” Meaning that an officer will testify incorrectly that this acts as evidence of your intoxication. In order to take precautions, have your license and insurance card in an easy to find place. In a perfect world you should have your documents ready to go. However, do not take lightly the power of adrenaline. Even lawyers will admit that they have never been more nervous after being pulled over after drinking. The officer will usually walk up to the passenger side of your vehicle for safety. By the time the officer has approached, you should have your window down.
Once the officer approaches, his first question could very well be, “Have you been drinking tonight?” Even if you think you are a smooth talker, you will almost never be able to talk your way out of a DWI. Once midnight hits, law enforcers typically have DWI arrests as the main priority on their list. If an officer has stopped you and realizes that you have alcohol on your breath, there’s no doubt that you will be going to jail. Which means you need to be working on your primary objective – assisting your lawyer in building the proper defense at the exact time an attorney is not with you to protect you. In other words, you should be responding with, “I’m not answering any questions until I speak with an attorney.”
It’s extremely important that you understand this. Law enforcement officers are highly trained and prepared in a variety of interrogation tactics, especially in situations with a potential drunk driver. There’s no doubt that the officer will criticize or put down your refusal to answer their questions. This happens because officers know that in most cases, statements made by the driver are their best evidence. Keep your composure. Ensure that you do not argue with the officer. Do not declare your innocence and do not get baited into it either. You will have chances to do that, but now is not the time. At this time, the police officer should ask you for your license and insurance. Since you should already have it out, you hand it to the officer with ease.
Now the officer will scan your license through the system before returning to your car and asking you to step out. This is done for two main reasons. For starters, the officer has to ensure their safety. In reality there are many dangerous people on the roads who are looking for an opportunity to harm a police officer. Officers are experienced in staying on high alert after pulling someone over, because they understand that traffic stops can be the most dangerous encounters police officer can have. Also, even though it is unfair, the officer wants to see if you have ever had DWI, driving while suspended convictions, etc. If this is the case and you do have a prior history of DWIs on your record, you can rest assured that you are going to jail.
Once an officer has requested that you step out of your vehicle, ensure that you do so without any delay. Make sure that you are careful to step out on firm footing and maintain your balance, since at this point, the officer is watching your every step. Close your car door behind you. Listen to the police officer’s directions and go wherever he instructs you to go. At this point, the officer will begin the field sobriety tests with you. Instead of going into a lot of detail (because details won’t matter if you follow this advice), the police officer expects to be able to administer a series of divided attention exams. These are designed to confuse you into making simple mistakes in your memory and balance. In some instances, a police officer will be tricky and won’t even ask you. They will start to check your eyes with what is known as the horizontal gaze nystagmus test (which essentially checks for involuntary jerking in your eyes that can be caused by alcohol, as well as a multitude of other things).
In the event that the officer begins the testing process or if he asks if you will participate in the tests, you should politely state, “I want to speak to an attorney before taking any tests.” Once again, it is important to remember that the officer is more than likely to criticize you or belittle you for choosing not to take the tests. He may even state that “if you pass, I will let you go home” or “as long as you’re not guilty, you won’t have any problem taking these tests.” Once again, there is no way you are going home at this point, you will be taken to jail.
Even in cases where you are truly innocent, each of these tests is designed to make you fail. Based on the government’s research (the same government that is examining you for a DWI), even under the best circumstances, these tests only have a 77% accuracy. We’ve even seen professional athletes that have “failed” these tests, even though it appears in the video that the client has performed the tests to perfection. So, even if you happen to be a world class athlete, you should still remain calm and refuse the tests. (It’s important to note that an officer may not have a camera or recording device on them. Many law enforcement departments will claim that they refuse to install a camera or such, because of lack of funding.)
The Portable Breath Tester (breath testing device)
An officer may even go as far as getting you to take the breath testing device, commonly known as the portable breath tester (“PBT”). You may be told that you could risk losing your license if you refuse to blow in the PBT. However, this is not the case. Under law, the PBT can only be used to see if there is any alcohol in your system. Since these devices can be highly unreliable, they are not allowed to be used as evidence in the court. If you are taking a breath test that could affect your license, you will know, because by law, the officer is required to read you a statement called “implied consent.”
This implied consent statement is put in place to inform you that you are simply being requested to take a breath test and if you fail to do so, then your license will be revoked for a year (however this is not completely true, since an attorney can challenge the test in court). Regarding the PBT, state “I want to speak with an attorney before taking any tests.” At this point, you will be under arrest.
Once you are placed in the police car, do not speak. Even if the officer is not in the car, some police vehicles have some sort of recording device, in hope that you will speak as a mistake. We’ve dealt with cases where our clients were represented well and had a defendable DWI case, but earlier in the back of the police car, the client made statements such as “I shouldn’t have drank so much” or “I should have called a cab.”
At the Police Station After a DWI
When you arrive at the police station, the officer will begin ask you a series of questions, like “What medications have you taken?” and “How much have you had to drink tonight?” or “Are you under the influence of alcohol or drugs?” And again, you should say, politely, “I’m not answering any questions before I speak with an attorney.” Immediately after, the police officer will ask you take a breath, urine, and/or blood test, after reading you an implied consent statement. Once again, you are able to inform the officer that you, “want to speak to an attorney before taking any tests.” If you do not continue to make this statement, it is very likely that the officer will deny that you have asked to speak to a lawyer. In the case that you didn’t ask again, hopefully you’ve been recording the conversations! In order to make absolute sure that you will be able to speak to an attorney, it can’t hurt to ask again.
As long as the officer is keeping up with the law, you should be allowed to call an attorney now. Ask for your cell phone back and contact our office immediately. While you are reading this, it would beneficial to put our DWI number in your phone. That number is (314)-888-9247 and you should save it under “DWI attorney.” We can’t guarantee that a lawyer will be available, but we do our best to answer all calls, no matter the time of day. It’s also imperative that you remain silent with the officer. While you are in jail, you shouldn’t speak to anyone, including cell mates. We’ve seen it on TV in the past as common words, but anything you say CAN and WILL be used against you in the court of law. For this very reason, jail cells typically record all conversations.
Please understand that any conversation you have with an attorney is 100% confidential under Kansas law. Even if an officer has overheard your conversations with an attorney, they may not be used in court. Which means, you should be completely honest with the attorney. We can not help you with advice if you are not entirely honest. The attorney has to be able to give advice based on 1) any prior offenses and 2) if and how much you ACTUALLY had to drink. We have no reason to judge you. In some instances, there are members of our firm that have received DWIs in the past. We know that these things can happen at times. So stay calm, because even if you admit to being intoxicated, we will defend and represent you just as much in court as if you claimed to be innocent.
After you (or a friend/loved one) have paid off your bond, now you need to go home and take care of all the paperwork that has been provided with you by the officer. On the very next business day, you should consult our office for a free consultation with one of our DWI lawyers. Ensure that you bring all of the paperwork you were provided with, so that you can give it to the lawyer at your appointment. If you have already spoken to an attorney from jail, we’ll make sure that your consultation is with the same attorney, so that they will already understand your situation.