Your Rights When Interacting With Police at a DWI Stop
Summary: New Jersey law requires your compliance during a traffic stop, but you still have rights. When interacting with police, you can say no to the officer’s requests for searches and field sobriety tests.
Law enforcement patrol officers in New Jersey are constantly on the lookout for drunk drivers. Driving while intoxicated, or DWI, represents a criminal offense. If you have consumed alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription drugs and can no longer drive safely, you could be arrested and prosecuted. This process begins with a traffic stop. The law grants you certain rights in this situation.
Control Your Emotions
Although panic might grip you when police lights flash behind your vehicle, maintaining your composure is very important. You do not want an officer to think that you are belligerent or unpredictable. Do not raise your voice or start an argument. Keep your hands visible as much as possible.
Police officers frequently work in dangerous conditions. This means that their guard is up. They are ready to escalate a situation if they feel threatened.
You must present an officer with your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. As the driver, you may be ordered by police to get out of the vehicle. Officers should not ask passengers to exit a vehicle unless they have a specific concern to justify the request.
If the police are already in possession of a search warrant for your vehicle, they can conduct the search. Otherwise, they need probable cause to look through your vehicle without your consent.
If the officer does not have probable cause, you do not have to consent to a search of your vehicle or your body. Police might ask to conduct such a search, but you have the right to state in a calm voice, “No, I do not consent to a search.”
Field Sobriety Testing
An officer might ask you to take one or more field sobriety tests. The basic three assessments are the:
You are not required to consent to these tests. You will not face a legal penalty for refusing, although in some cases, your refusal may be used to build a case against you in court. That’s one reason why it’s important to have a skilled DUI attorney at your side.
Your traffic stop rights do not protect you from demands for a physical assessment. A police officer who has conducted a lawful arrest after suspecting you of DWI has established probable cause to perform the breath test. The law views your arrest as implied consent. The alcohol breath test will measure your blood alcohol content. If you’re over 21 years old, a BAC of .08 or higher represents legal intoxication. If you’re under 21, even a BAC of .02 can trigger an arrest.
If you do not cooperate with the breath test, a police officer cannot physically force you to comply. However, refusal breaks the law and carries penalties.
Your Rights During Questioning
During your arrest, you do not have to answer any questions except to confirm your name. Law enforcement should inform you of your constitutional rights. The arresting officer should clearly say that:
- You do not have to speak.
- You have a right to a lawyer.
- You have a right to a public defender if you cannot afford a lawyer.
If police persist in asking you questions, you do not have to say anything. During processing at the police station or jail, you have a right to make a telephone call.
A DWI conviction will impose serious consequences that could cause you a great deal of inconvenience and expense. The first offense in New Jersey suspends or revokes your driver’s license for three months. Fines could range from $250 to $400, and the court could send you to jail for up to 30 days. These penalties increase if your BAC was .10 or higher, and subsequent offenses carry tougher penalties as well.
A DWI lawyer will take steps to protect your rights after an arrest. Denis Driscoll has extensive knowledge of the criminal justice system, and he fights aggressively on behalf of people charged with DWI in New Jersey. To meet with him and learn about your options for responding to DWI charges, call or email our office today.