DUI Traffic Stop: FAQ

Getting pulled over for allegedly driving under the influence can be a worrying and stressful experience. Knowing what happens when you get a DUI can help prepare you in case you are ever stopped by police. Below are answers to some commonly asked questions that can help you learn what your rights are and what steps to take if you are charged with DUI.

How high can my blood alcohol content level be before it is considered illegal to drive?

For adults who are 21 years of age or older, the legal BAC limit is .08 percent in all states and the District of Columbia. However, for those who are under 21, or those who are driving commercial vehicles, the rules differ. In some jurisdictions, it is illegal for drivers under 21 years of age to have a, BAC level over zero percent. In others, the limit is .02 percent. Additionally, in many jurisdictions, those driving commercial vehicles have a legal BAC limit of .04 percent.

How will officers test whether or not I am drunk?

Officers have multiple means of determining whether or not you are impaired by alcohol. One method is to observe your driving. If you are driving erratically, an officer may stop you, at which point signs of intoxication might be detected, like alcohol on your breath or bloodshot eyes. If you have already been stopped, officers may have you perform field sobriety tests. There are three standard tests:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus — This test involves the officer monitoring your eyes for involuntary jerking movements.
  • Walk and Turn — This test typically involves walking in a straight line, heel-to-toe, turning around, and walking back.
  • One-Leg Stand — This test often involves standing on one foot while counting to 30.

If these methods suggest you might be intoxicated, the officer may administer chemical tests. Breath tests are likely the most well-known, but urine tests and blood tests are used as well.

Am I required to take a chemical test?

When obtaining a driver's license, you give implied consent to chemical BAC tests. This means that refusing to take one can result in stiff penalties, including the suspension of your license. Some states also practice "No-Refusal" enforcement. This means that, with a proper warrant, you can be forced to take a BAC test. Even if you refuse to take a BAC test, it may not prevent you from being charged. Other evidence, like the results of field sobriety testing or witness testimony, can be offered at trial.

Can I speak with a lawyer before taking a test?

The answer to this question depends on the state you are in. Some states, like Arizona and Minnesota, allow drivers to consult a lawyer when deciding whether or not to take a chemical test. However, you likely won't have long to talk with a lawyer and should not attempt to stall for time. Other states, such as California, do not allow you to speak with a lawyer before testing.

Can the police ask questions before reading my rights?

If the police have not taken you into custody, they do not have to read you your Miranda rights before questioning you. If officers stop you on the roadside for questioning, you aren't considered to be in their custody. However, once you are taken into custody, the police can no longer question you without reading you your rights. If they do, the answers you give may be barred from being used against you in court.

What if an officer doesn't follow protocol?

Officers have a rather strict set of rules to follow when they pull you over for a DUI. They must have reasonable suspicion to believe you are driving intoxicated in order to pull you over and they must have probable cause in order to arrest you. If an officer pulls you over or arrests you without meeting the requisite burden of proof or there is misconduct on the part of the officer in administering tests, that can be used in your favor in court. Evidence collected illegally, including your own testimony, could be deemed inadmissible.

Should I get a DUI lawyer?

While the circumstances for each DUI can vary widely, it is generally wise to at least consult a DUI attorney after being charged to find out what happens when you get a DUI. This can give you a better idea of how serious the charges are, how strong the evidence is against you and the severity of the laws in your state.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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