Getting stopped on suspicion of DWI can be a stressful experience. Understanding what happens and why can help you stay calm and make informed choices.
While a general outline can be helpful, situations may vary. Anyone facing DWI charges is best served by consulting an attorney for specific guidance.
The initial stop
A DWI stop may begin as a traffic stop or as a stop in the course of a DWI checkpoint; police officers must have a valid basis for stopping your vehicle. Legitimate reasons include breaking traffic rules, having visible defects such as a broken light and failing to stay in one’s lane or react appropriately to traffic changes. Simply driving in an area with several bars, on the other hand, does not suffice.
Upon stopping you, the police officer will usually begin by requesting your driver’s license and registration. He or she may ask you questions about whether you have been drinking. You have a right not to answer these questions. However, you should not lie, and you should remain polite when refusing to answer.
Signs of impairment
If the police officer believes you are, in fact, impaired, he or she may go on to administer tests. Common indicators of impairment include open cans or bottles of alcohol in the car, the smell of alcohol or marijuana or physical demeanor indicating alcohol or drug use.
Officers may also ask to search your car. It is usually in your best interest to politely yet clearly refuse any searches. If they proceed anyway, do not get in their way. Do let your attorneys know so they can challenge the results of such an invalid search.
Field sobriety testing
One common test is the standard field sobriety test. Typically, this includes simple cognitive tests such as counting backward or reciting the alphabet. Other parts test physical coordination and may include standing on one leg, walking in a straight line and focusing your gaze. You have the right to refuse to perform any of these tests. They may yield false positives, especially for people with certain medical issues.
Officers may also ask you to blow into a portable breathalyzer unit. You may refuse this test as well. North Carolina law does require you to submit if taken to the police station for testing with the breathalyzer unit there.