The #1 question every criminal defense lawyer gets asked: What do I do when pulled over for a DWI?
But, my answer may surprise you.
“Don’t do any field sobriety tests, right?”
Most defense attorneys will tell you that you shouldn't do any of the tests. Most of them will tell you that you should just tell the officer that you will not speak to them without a lawyer and politely refuse all requests and tests.
My advice is different, however. It’s true that you do not HAVE to take the field sobriety tests. But, keep in mind, if you take the advice above, there is a 100% chance that you're going to get arrested that night. If you’ve only had a couple drinks and you feel you’re not intoxicated, it would really suck to make a decision that you KNOW will result in your arrest. The truth is, I've met many people who have been pulled over for DWI and were allowed to go home. Every single one of these people agreed to do the field sobriety tests.
“So I SHOULD do the field sobriety tests?”
Does that mean I think everyone should agree to do the standardized field sobriety test? Absolutely not.
Here's my advice: if you get behind the wheel of your car and you know you haven’t had much alcohol and you don’t feel intoxicated, then you should consider doing the tests. However, doing the tests might not make sense if you know you have bad balance and coordination, since you may end up looking intoxicated, even though you’re not.
Now, if you make the decision to drive and you know you’re intoxicated, then you most likely should NOT do the tests. In that situation, you're going to jail whether you take the tests or not, so performing the tests while heavily impaired will only hurt your case.
Bottom line is, If I had to choose between a DWI case where a person does a total refusal or a DWI case where a person does the standardized field sobriety test and performs relatively well, I would choose the latter. Jurors are very skeptical of people who refuse to do anything and are totally uncooperative.
Any other advice?
Always mention any physical impairments during your contact with the officer. Sometimes, clients will tell me that they couldn’t perform well on the field sobriety tests because they have a bad knee, for example. But, when we watch the video, they never mentioned it to the officer on the night of the arrest. If we bring up the knee in trial, a jury may view the “bad knee” as a convenient excuse that you only came up with after you met with a defense attorney.
Also, if it’s cold or you’re nervous or your shoes aren’t ideal for the tasks, etc. – say so during the testing! Let the jury and the prosecutor know what you were dealing with on the night you were arrested.
What juries actually care about
Here's some information that may surprise you. It has been my experience that jurors don't really care about how you perform on the field sobriety tests. I mean, you can't be falling all over yourself, but jurors definitely do not expect perfection on those tests.
What jurors do care about, however, is the following:
- Are you doing the normal things normally?
- When you're standing in place, are you standing relatively still or are you swaying?
- When you walk from point A to point B, are you walking normally or are you staggering?
- When you’re talking to the officer, do you have clear speech and are you making sense?
These NORMAL actions matter much more to jurors than how you actually perform on some roadside coordination exercises.
Why should I hire an attorney for my DWI case?
I am Board Certified in Criminal Law and also certified in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing. There aren’t many defense attorneys who can say that. That certification gives me an advantage in DWI cases involving field sobriety tests. My training allows me to detect officer mistakes when they’re administering the sobriety tests. This allows for very effective cross-examinations in front of juries.
If you’ve been arrested for DWI, find a lawyer who is Board Certified in Criminal Law and is certified in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing.