What to Do if You're Stopped for DWI

What to Do if You're Stopped for DWI If you are pulled over for DWI, it is important to know what to do.

It's normal to be a little scared and worried. DWI is a serious offense in North Carolina and no one wants to be handcuffed and hauled off to jail.

Here are some tips on what to do if you're pulled over for DWI in Durham:

  1. Stay calm
  2. Have a plan
  3. Be polite and respectful
  4. Decline to Answer Questions
  5. Ask if you are free to leave
  6. Do not perform dexterity tests
  7. Do not blow into the roadside PBT - Portable Breath Test

We hope this step by step guide is helpful to you. Please call if you've been arrested or have additional questions about DWI charges in Durham.

Why is It Important to Stay Calm if You're Accused of "Drunk Driving?"

If you are stopped for DUI by the police and accused of driving while impaired, it is important to remain calm.

It is also important to know your rights.

FAQs about Impaired Driving in NC

Even if you think the stop is illegal or that the police don't have Reasonable Suspicion, losing your temper will not help.

In fact, it could hurt you in the long run.

You should never try to talk your way out of a DWI stop or offer any information other than your name and driver's license.

You are Likely on Camera

Your encounter with the police officer very well may be recorded on either a dash-cam video or BWC - Body Worn Camera.

During a police stop, it's always better to remain calm and keep your wits about you.

Respond in a Timely Manner - Use Your Signals

If the blue lights go on, respond immediately.

Use your turn signal. Slow down.

Make it clear you intend to stop.

Pull Over Safely

Pull over in a safe and appropriate location. If an officer signals where to pull over, follow instructions.

Turn on your emergency blinkers if you're on a country road and there isn't a shoulder or safe place to pull over.

Have a Plan

What you tell the police officer, even during the preliminary stages of the stop, could be used against you in court.

Be prepared to immediately provide, without fumbling around or searching the glove compartment for your:

  • Driver's License
  • Vehicle Registration and
  • Proof of Insurance

We think it's best to always keep documents like your insurance information somewhere that can be immediately and easily accessed, like your sun visor.

You never know when you could be stopped for DUI or some other traffic offense.

Anticipate and Prepare

Be able to immediately hand your license, registration, and insurance card to the officer when they approach the vehicle.

They are going to ask for it. They're trained to do so.

Anticipate that and be prepared.

Avoid Sudden Movements

Do not make any sudden or suspicious movements.

If possible, turn on your dome light before the officer approaches the vehicle.

Because you don't know what an individual law enforcement officer may consider "suspicious" in DWI cases, keep both hands on the steering wheel.

Do not reach for anything within the vehicle.

Wait to Say Anything

Remain silent until the officer speaks.

Not only do you have a right to remain silent, if you're stopped for a DUI it's a good idea to limit your conversation with the police.

That's good advice whether you're on the side of the road or at the police station.

If you need to access your center console or wallet to retrieve your driver's license or registration, tell the officer that's what you'd like to do and ask permission to do so.

Wait for them to acknowledge what you just said and give you permission to gather your items if they're not already in your hand and ready to go.

Say something like this, "Officer, my license is in my wallet, which is in my back pocket. I'd like to reach and get it. Is that OK?"

Understand Police Training

Know this: Police officers will likely attempt to distract you by telling you to do something and then immediately interrupt you by asking questions.

They purposely try to divide your attention to see if you remain on task and do what they asked first.

That's often done while you're looking for your driver's license.

Why is that?

Because that's how they are trained.

The logic is that driving requires us all to do multiple things at once.

In law enforcement DWI training, it's called a divided attention task.

Unfortunately, it's human nature to immediately respond to questions posed by law enforcement, which naturally delays the first task they've instructed you to do.

If you understand the training officers receive regarding suspected DUI drivers and a possible DUI charge, the better you are at anticipating what will happen and knowing how to best respond.

Be Ready Before They Ask

If you hand your license to the officer immediately when they approach your vehicle, they are the ones who become distracted while they're looking at your name and personal information.

If the officer asks you to step out of the car, do so calmly and comply with where they want you to stand.

Keep your hands where they can see them.

Even if it's cold, do not put your hands in your pockets.

Don't make sudden movements or attempt to get back into the car, even if it's only to retrieve a coat or your driver's license or cell phone.

Be Polite and Respectful

What to Do if You're Stopped for DWI You will want to avoid any actions or words that could be perceived as aggressive or confrontational.

You may assert your legal rights without being unnecessarily rude.

If the officer asks you to step out of the vehicle, do so calmly and without hesitation.

Don't ask why or argue.

"The time to argue legal issues is in the courtroom with an attorney, not on the side of the road. Police officers in North Carolina possess a lot of authority on the scene. They also carry a gun."

- Cole Williams, Durham DWI Lawyer

Do not give the police the opportunity to escalate the encounter.

If they are rude or professional, remain calm and polite.

Again, there is a good chance everything is being recorded and made part of a police report.

Let the police officer come off as unreasonable and rude on camera, not you.

Decline to Answer Questions

You do not have to answer questions about where you are coming from or where you are going.

You also do not have to answer questions about how much alcohol you had to drink.

It is perfectly legal to say something like, "Officer, with all due respect, I would prefer not to answer that question."

Politely refuse.

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects all of us from self-incrimination.

That means you cannot be forced to incriminate yourself - in other words, say something that could be used as evidence against you in a criminal case.

In many if not most situations, it is best not to answer any questions at all, beyond providing the requested documentation, without first speaking to an attorney.

Engaging in conversation only extends the time you're dealing with the police.

And they're not asking you questions to be polite or friendly.

If you're pulled over for DWI and the first thing the officer asks is, "How much have you had to drink tonight," chances are they are already suspicious.

They're not trying "make sure you're alright to drive."

The officer suspects you may be driving under the influence or over the legal limit and may want to make a DUI arrest.

They are gathering evidence against you to establish Probable Cause to Arrest and use it against you in court.

Miranda Rights May Not Apply During This Stage of the "Investigatory Detention"

Police are not always required to immediately read your Miranda Rights.

The failure to advise you of your rights does not automatically result in the dismissal of charges against you.

Answering questions prior to the arrest is often considered voluntary and may be deemed legal.

The officer may make it seem like you have to provide information. They may also get a little upset.

That's OK.

Under the 5th Amendment, you do not have to provide information about yourself, where you are going, where you have been, or how much you've had to drink.

It's important to remember that the police are not trying to help you "get on down the road."

They are gathering evidence against you.

Ask if You are Free to Leave

If the officer has asked you to step out of your vehicle, they have effectively detained you.

You may ask the officer if you are free to leave. If they say no, then you know you are being detained.

You may already be under arrest and they just haven't told you.

If the officer says yes, then politely end the encounter and drive away.

If an officer wants to search your vehicle, do not give permission.

Again, it is important that you be respectful but firm in declining consent to a search of your car.

The police may try to trick you into consenting by saying something like, "I can't let you go until I search your car."

That's not true. You can always say no.

If an officer has probable cause to search your vehicle, they will do so whether you consent or not.

But if you give consent, it makes it much harder for your lawyer to later argue that the evidence should be suppressed because it was obtained illegally.

Do Not Perform Field Sobriety Tests

What to Do if You're Stopped for DWI In North Carolina, you are not required to submit to what police officers call Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) - regardless of what the police officer says.

A roadside field sobriety test is voluntary. You do not have to cooperate.

The most common test is the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, which involves following a pen or a finger or light with your eyes.

There are other types dexterity tests, including the one-leg stand test and the walk-and-turn test (walking a straight line).

The officer may even ask you to say your ABCs or count backwards or forwards using a certain range of numbers.

Again, roadside testing is voluntary. You don't have to do it.

You should politely decline to take any of these tests.

Failure to submit to a field sobriety test will not result in a license suspension.

The police will try to convince you that if you do well, then they will know that you're not impaired and let you go on your way.

That's simply not true.

In fact, even people who are not impaired often fail field sobriety tests.

The tests are extremely subjective and even very experienced police officers make mistakes!

As such, it's a good idea to politely decline the field sobriety tests.

You are not required to take a field sobriety test, but if you refuse, the officer may arrest you anyway.

And if you do take the test and fail, the officer will almost certainly arrest you.

What to Do if You're Arrested

If the officer arrests you, again, be polite and respectful.

Do not say anything else until you have spoken with an attorney.

Do not engage the officer in any form of conversation, even if it seems friendly or simply social in nature.

How you say things can be just as important as what you say.

For example, the officer may describe your speed as slurred or slow or mush mouthed while you're talking about something as innocent as how long you've lived in Durham or your favorite sports team.

It is not rude to remain silent.

It's your Constitutional Right.

Do Not Blow Into the Roadside, PBT - Portable Breath Test

You are not required to blow into the handheld breath testing machine on the side of the road.

While many people still refer to that as the "breathalyzer," it's more accurately referred to as the AlcoSensor or the PBT - Portable Breath Test.

These chemical tests are often inaccurate, and they give the police officer more evidence to use against you.

The AlcoSensor (PBT) is so inaccurate that the numerical reading cannot be used against you in court.

While the officer may use the PBT to help establish Probable Cause, they may only testify in court that the reading was positive or negative for alcohol and nothing more - Cole Williams, Durham DWI Defense Attorney

As such, you may decline to provide a breath sample on the PBT.

Your refusal to blow into the AlcoSensor also cannot be used by NC DMV against you. It is no subject to the North Carolina Implied Consent Law.

Your license will not be revoked or suspended for refusing the AlcoSensor PBT.

The failure to blow may be used by the officer to determine Probable Cause for arrest.

That is very different from the breath testing machine at the police station or the jail.

That breath-testing device is known as the Intoximeter EC/IR II.

A blood or breath test may be required in some instances under the NC Implied Consent law.

The Intoximeter EC/IR II chemical test is deemed reliable and accurate by the North Carolina General Assembly. So is a blood test.

Under the NC DWI laws, failure to submit to the EC/IR II test is recorded as a Willful Refusal and can result in the revocation of your driver's license.

Unlike some states, a Willful Refusal of a "breathalyzer test" is not a separate criminal offense.

The decision of whether to blow, at least regarding the EC/IR II, is frankly complicated.

Clearly, there are consequences of a Willful Refusal.

Because of the legal complexities of such matters, we strongly recommend people accused of DWI charges in Durham immediately speak to a DWI defense lawyer who possesses substantial experience handling those types of cases in court.

Durham DWI Lawyer - Cole Williams

What to Do if You're Stopped for DWI If you have been charged with DWI in Durham, we think it's a good idea to have a DWI defense lawyer on your side who really knows what they're talking about.

Cole Williams has been helping clients with Durham DWI charges for more than 25 years. He is an experienced DUI attorney.

He knows what to do if you're stopped for DWI and taken to the police station.

Cole is a DUI defense attorney who will take the time to explain your legal rights and options after a DWI arrest.

Contact Cole today for a free consultation to discuss your specific case.

Cole Williams is a fabulous courtroom attorney. He's someone I respect and admire, having litigated complex legal matters in Durham with him. Our firm regularly refers clients to Cole and his staff, knowing they'll be treated in a kind, professional manner. Bill Powers, Charlotte Attorney
I've known Cole Williams both personally and professionally for more than 20 years. Cole has a keen legal mind and tenacious spirit. He is widely respected both in the Durham legal community and in North Carolina as a courtroom advocate. I highly recommend Cole Williams to you. John Fanney, Raleigh Criminal Defense Attorney