Police Procedure: Your DUI Stop in Washington State
Please do not drink and drive. If you do drink, try not to drive for at least 8 hours afterwards. For those of you who drink and drive, here is the sequence of events you can expect if you are stopped for DUI in the State of Washington.
- Vehicle in Motion: The officer sees your car, develops a “reasonable suspicion” that you may be up to some “criminal activity”, and stops you to ask you a few questions. Or he or she may have actually seen you commit a traffic infraction. Our law enforcement officers use anything – from “music too loud”, windows too dark, or starting too quickly from a stop light, to the more traditional violations of speeding, swerving out of your lane, or skidding to a stop – as grounds for stopping a car.
- Personal Contact: This is where the officer comes up to your car window and talks with you. He will most likely ask for your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. He may ask you if you know why he stopped you. Your best bet is to have your license, registration, and proof of insurance at the ready, and politely decline to answer his questions. Just give him your license, registration, and proof of insurance. Do not answer any of his or her questions. You may be asked about what you have had to drink. Respectfully say you are not answering questions until you have had a chance to consult your attorney. You are not going to be able to talk the officer into believing there was no reason to stop you. Also remember the way you hand your license over is being evaluated. If you are looking through cards in your wallet for proof of insurance it will be reported that you “fumbled” for your license and insurance. If you have a pile of papers in your glove box within which is hidden your vehicle registration, it will be reported that you were confused and sloppy and could not find your registration when asked for it.
- Preliminary Breath Test: Here in Seattle, the police will frequently ask you to take a preliminary breath test (PBT) at the side of the road. The PBT is also often referred to as the portable breath test. This small hand-held device is the Alco Sensor2. Don’t blow in it. Just say “no thank you” It is not required and there is no penalty for refusing to blow on the road. It is not as accurate as stationary machines and it can spread infectious diseases. The Alco Sensor is not approved for evidentiary breath tests. That means it cannot be used against you in a trial to prove you were impaired by alcohol. However, if you do blow into it the results can be used to justify charging you with DUI and bringing you to trial. Sounds confusing? It is. So do not blow into the PBT. Ask to call your attorney instead. Before administering the PBT the officer is supposed to advise you that you do not have to take it. They usually don’t tell you that fact. Instead, they imply that you have to take that test under color of authority. You have nothing to gain by taking a PBT. The police have nothing to lose by convincing you otherwise.
- Pre-arrest Interview and Testing: Now the law enforcement officer gets a bit more personal. Usually he or she will ask a few more personal questions and try to administer balance and coordination tests. There are only 3 tests that are validated by scientific research as Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. The three standardized field sobriety tests that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has approved for use are: 1. Gaze Nystagmas (the Eye test); 2. Walk and Turn (9 heel to toe steps out and 9 heel to toe steps back); and 3. The One-Legged Stand (performed on one leg of your choice, counting to 30). Prior to administering the tests the police officer is required to tell you that any of these tests, as well as the PBT, are voluntary. Oftentimes the voluntary aspect of the tests is not relayed to the person stopped for DUI. When you are told it is ‘voluntary’ it is stated in such a way that no reasonable person could understand that it is voluntary. For example: “I’d like you to do some voluntary tests for me,” or “I instructed the driver to perform voluntary field sobriety tests.” No matter how it comes across to you, do not take these tests. These tests are nothing more than a warrantless search. The officer is searching for evidence to use to justify arresting you. If you consent to this warrantless search you are helping the officer obtain evidence that will be used to convict you of DUI. A DUI conviction results in mandatory jail time, fines and loss of your driver’s license (see our DUI Penalty Chart). Why help out? Nothing you say will help you prove your innocence at this stage – that comes later. Just say no and respectfully decline all of the ‘voluntary’ tests offered to you.
- Stepping Out: Next you will probably be asked to “step out” of your vehicle. Most people don’t consider how they look getting out of a car or truck. A DUI stop is one time when you definitely want to be concerned about how you look. Consider the following: 1. Smile on any on videotape as you egress. 2. A less-than-graceful exit can be used to incriminate you. So don’t grab the door or window to door to pull yourself up; don’t hold onto the doorframe to “steady” yourself as you step out; don’t put your hand on the car for “balance.” Even if it is windy or raining and you are freezing, don’t move because “swaying” will be used to justify your impending arrest. Just stand there with your hands visible and wait to be told what to do. Do not answer questions.
Under Arrest: If you are arrested, only take a breath test at the police station. You will very likely be asked to blow into the large breath test machine sitting on a table. This is the BAC Datamaster or Datamaster CDM. At this time, these are the only two machines approved by the Washington State toxicologist for evidentiary breath samples. If you don’t blow into the Datamaster you could lose your driver’s license for a year or more. If you cannot decide whether or not to take a breath or blood test, ask to call an attorney for advice. Remember, it is your right to seek legal counsel prior to taking the breath or blood test. Don’t let the police convince you that you do not have, or must give up, this very important right.
- At the Police Station: You will probably be asked a series of questions regarding your driving, drinking, and personal information, and whether you think your driving was impaired by alcohol. It is in your best interest to decline to answer the officer’s questions, especially the last one about impaired driving, unless of course the answer is a clear and unequivocal “No.”
The less information and evidence you give the officer, the weaker his case, and the more likely you will not be arrested. If you are not arrested, you won’t need to hire a lawyer! Even if you are arrested, the less information and evidence you give the officer, the weaker his case, and the more likely you will not be convicted. This makes hiring an attorney worthwhile.
REMEMBER, THE POLICE WILL DO AND SAY WHATEVER THEY CAN TO CONVINCE YOU NOT TO FOLLOW THIS ADVICE. HOWEVER, THEY ARE THE ONES WHO ARE GOING TO ARREST YOU IF YOU GIVE THEM ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO DO IT.