What do I do if I’m pulled over for DUI?
The bottom line: Be polite, and remember your rights.
If you’re pulled over and the officer asks you to step out of the car, you should step out of the car. They are almost always allowed to legally order you to step out of the car, if for no other reason than the officer’s safety on the side of the road. And of course, hand over your driver’s license and other documents that they request.
But from that point forward, there’s very little that they can make you do.
South Carolina law states that field sobriety tests are only mandatory in cases where a fatal accident has occurred. Otherwise, you are free to politely decline to do almost anything they ask you to.
An officer may ask you a question that makes it sound like you have no choice. “I just need to look in your eyes real quick, is that OK?” “Come over here and stand right here for me, if you don’t mind.” You can say no, and you don’t have to explain why.
Keep in mind that in South Carolina, all stages of a roadside DUI investigation are supposed to be video and audio recorded. Your behavior, your attitude, what you say, and what you do are all being recorded, and if you do end up getting charged with something and you go to trial, that video is likely going to be seen by the judge and jury.
Of course, what you have to do and what you choose to do are two different questions. You can do the field sobriety tests if you want to. But keep in mind that these are scored in very subtle ways that you probably aren’t aware of. Officers have to complete long training sessions on how to administer and score these tests, and they only need to see you demonstrate a couple of “clues” before their training tells them they can assume you are impaired. These are tests that are designed to divide your attention on doing multiple physical tasks, and you don’t get to know what they’re looking for before you start. Would you agree to play a contact sport without knowing any of the rules ahead of time?
If you are arrested, you should then be offered the opportunity to take a breath test. You don’t have to take it, but there are consequences for your driver’s license if you refuse. Depending on what the result is, there might be consequences even if you take it. But remember, whatever happens, if your driver’s license is suspended as a result of what you decide, you do have the opportunity to appeal that administrative license suspension. It’s a separate process from the criminal case itself, and a lawyer can help you file the necessary paperwork and show you how to get a temporary driver’s license while you’re waiting for the administrative hearing.
And keep in mind that you’re being video and audio recorded while you’re taking the breath test (and also for the awkward twenty-minute period while you’re waiting for it to power up). So: remain polite, and know that a judge or jury might end up watching everything you do and hearing everything you say.
Ultimately, you have to decide what to do if you find yourself in this situation. Every case is different, and there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to what you should do. But you should assume that everything you do and say is being recorded and will be played back to a jury, and you should keep in mind that there’s very little that you are ever required to do. Patience and politeness are the best tools you have.
If you’ve been arrested for DUI, your lawyer can file certain motions that require the State to turn over whatever video and audio evidence it may have, and they can review it to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
I welcome you to call my office for a free and confidential consultation about your DUI case.