Question: I got pulled over in Flagstaff for a DUI. The officer asked me a lot of questions, like whether I’d been drinking, and whether I’d do field sobriety tests. What should I have done?
Ryan’s Answer: You do not have to say yes to every request of the police officer. Let’s go over the basic three things that happen.
First, you must pull over when the red and blue lights are behind you. Unlawful flight from a law enforcement vehicle is a class 5 felony; don’t do it.
Second, you must remain in your vehicle unless and until the officer directs you to step out. If the officer perceives you are a threat, he/she can detain you and pat you down. Also, if you trip, stumble, stagger, or even use your hands while getting out of your car, the officer can use those things as indicia of intoxication. Stay in your car (until told otherwise).
Third, you must produce your license, registration, and proof of insurance. Have those items ready by the time the officer approaches your window. Have your window rolled down already. Do not fumble around with anything in your car. After all of that, you do not have to agree to answer any questions that could be incriminating. You have to say your name. And I always advise my clients to be polite and respectful toward the police. But there is a difference between being polite and incriminating yourself.
If asked to say or do anything that could be incriminating, you should say something like, “I wish to remain silent and to speak with an attorney. If I am free to leave, I would like to leave please. I do not mean any disrespect.”
If the officer detains you further, do not become uncooperative. Keep your cool. If the officer asks you to perform field sobriety tests (commonly called FST’s), you may decline. FST’s are not required. They are optional and voluntary. You can tell the police officer that you respectfully decline to do them. You should also tell the police officer if you have any injuries or ailments that would prevent you from walking perfectly (i.e., a sprained ankle), or from performing coordination tests. However, there’s a downside to refusing to perform FST’s.
If you are charged with DUI and you go to trial, the prosecutor can (usually) use the fact that you refused to do FST’s against you. But it’s better to go that route than totally fail the FST’s and have the officer tell the jury about everything you did wrong.
FST’s are very hard to do perfectly, even for a completely sober person, so if you want to do them when asked, go ahead, but realize the risk that you are taking.
Call me if you have any questions about this article, or if you need legal help.