Avoid a DWI: Local Attorneys Explain What to Do if You're Pulled Over Tonight
You may be taking time off work for New Year's Eve, but law enforcement isn't. It's an all-hands-on-deck weekend for troopers, says Department of Public Safety spokesman Lonny Haschel, with a focused patrol specifically looking for intoxicated drivers.
We asked Mimi Coffey, David Burrows, George Milner III and Deandra Grant, local attorneys who specialize in DWI defense, how to avoid a DWI charge. About the only thing they agreed on was that the surest way to avoid a DWI arrest is to not drive. Burrows says it's such a charged issue that he'd never advise anyone to drive after drinking, while Coffey equates Mothers Against Drunk Driving-fueled drunken driving hysteria and the juked, inflated alcohol-related traffic fatality numbers to a modern-day witch hunt, a profit industry that destroys the lives of social drinkers, and Grant calls DWI law an "exception" to Constitutional protection from unreasonable searches.
Either way, if you see flashing lights on your way home, keep these suggestions in mind.
Drink with caution. Don't drink on an empty stomach, and keep track of how much you've consumed, Grant says. "People equate drinks with how many containers they've had, not the amount of alcohol," she says. "But the typical martini in Dallas has the equivalent of two drinks." And shots are never a good idea if you're driving.
Drive like Grandma. Not the grandmother who keeps a highball in her Coupe Deville's cupholder -- we mean the teetotaler who drives as if she's taking her driver's license exam and wouldn't dream of talking on the phone, let alone texting. Stop at yellow lights. Signal turns. "Cruise control was invented for people who've been drinking," Milner says. Most DWI arrests start out as a stop for a lesser traffic offense, Coffey says.
Keep your driver's license and insurance information in reach. Fumbling around for your insurance card or license during a traffic stop is not a good look during a traffic stop, Burrows says.
If you are pulled over, be polite and know your rights. Don't deny you've been drinking if you have been, Coffey and Milner say, but assert that you're not intoxicated. If the officer smells alcohol, you are probably going to jail. Now you need to try to avoid conviction. Counterintuitively, Milner says, saying you had a shot right before leaving can help your case more than saying it's been a couple hours since your last drink, as the alcohol in your stomach takes an hour or so to get into your bloodstream. Tell the officer you're "willing to do anything you're legally required to do," Grant says. Which isn't as much as you might think.
Don't take a field sobriety test. "They're designed for failure," Grant says. The tests, she says, were created with college-aged men as subjects, but the average American doesn't have the coordination, alertness and balance of those volunteers. You are legally required to get out of the car if an officer tells you to, but not required to walk in a straight line, recite the alphabet backwards or whatever circus act the officer wants you to perform in making a case against you. Same goes for the eye test, Coffey says, as there are many factors other than intoxication that can cause nystagmus, the jerky eye motion officers look for.
Or do take it. Milner says he's only heard of one client who wasn't arrested for DWI after refusing a field test, and that person was arrested on another charge. If you are clearly sober and do submit to the test, he recommends you pay close attention to every detail of instruction. It beats "refusing your way to jail," he says. Yet he admits that even his ex-wife, a healthy and coordinated gymnast and dancer, couldn't complete the test sober.
Don't take a breath test or blood test. Make them get a warrant for a blood test. They will, but Coffey and Milner say the breath test has a 50 percent inaccuracy rate. Blood tests, Milner says, are prone to contamination and lab mix-ups -- not to mention that blood samples can ferment over time.
If you are arrested, cooperate, but keep your mouth shut. The officer has been recording the entire process, and arguing, begging, crying or especially apologizing will do nothing except make you look guilty to a jury. "The chances are good, especially with the push over the holidays, that if they pull you over and smell alcohol, they will arrest you," Grant says. "The question is, how much evidence will you give them to convict you?"
Get a good DWI lawyer. DWI is a specialized area of law, so get an attorney who excels at those cases.