Police on High Alert for Drunk Drivers Over Holiday Weekend
Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and with it comes the usual anticipation of a drunk driving surge. Police departments across the nation will beef up their patrols and establish sobriety checkpoints in attempts to keep roadways safe throughout the three-day weekend. Regardless of whether you plan to drink, these heightened police efforts may boost your odds of being stopped and questioned about your alcohol consumption.
What you say to the police during a traffic stop can make the difference between a short delay and a DUI arrest. As we reported on Lawyers.com, Naperville, Illinois paid a $10,000 settlement to a man who was arrested for DUI last Memorial Day after blowing a 0.0 on a Breathalyzer test. Prior to taking the test, the driver admitted to drinking four or five beers earlier in the day.
“You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” said Illinois attorney Matthew David Keenan about responding to police questions about alcohol consumption. “If you say ‘yes,’ you’re giving the officer probable cause to arrest. If you say ‘no,’ and you’re arrested anyway and it turns out to not be true, well, judges don’t like that.”
In this situation, it’s important to appreciate the difference between making a vague statement and making a statement that can be proven false. Giving an evasive answer is less likely to get you in trouble than giving a false one.
“You can always say, ‘I don’t recall,’” said Georgia attorney George C. Creal. “Though that response is likely to arouse suspicion.”
“When you’re pulled over on suspicion of DUI, it can be difficult to decide what to say to the police because people are naturally inclined to please the people questioning them,” said Creal. “You may immediately want to give the officer the answer that will satisfy him, but that can hurt you. You can’t legally lie to law enforcement. That is a crime.”
Drivers always have the right to refuse field sobriety tests, Breathalyzer tests and blood tests, although refusal will often cause police to become more suspicious. Declining a field sobriety test can be a particularly good idea when there are conditions unrelated to impairment that could affect your performance.
“People may perform poorly on roadside tests because they’re ill, because they’re not athletic, because they’re wearing high heels, because it’s very cold outside,” said Creal. “It’s very easy for poor performance on field tests to be confused with alcohol-related impairment.”
Refusing a blood test may cause your license to be suspended for a year, but this suspension is not automatic in all states. And while a year-long suspension may be costly and inconvenient, it will almost always be cheaper and less destructive than a DUI conviction. Just keep in mind that the police can always appeal to a judge to obtain a warrant for your blood.
No matter what happens during your traffic stop, it’s important to keep your cool, even if the officer has an aggressive style. Dashboard cameras and microphones are now standard features of most police cruisers.
“You should always operate on the assumption that you’re on camera,” said Creal. “Be polite and be quiet.”
State Laws Make a Difference
“Don’t drink and drive” is a simple enough concept, but the landscape of DUI laws is much more complex. Not only do these laws vary from state to state, they’re frequently subject to change.
New York passed Leandra’s Law, named after an 11-year-old auto passenger who was killed when the driver crashed while under the influence of alcohol. The law makes it an automatic felony to be caught driving drunk with a passenger under the age of 16, and it carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison.
In Massachusetts, lawmakers recently closed a loophole in Melanie’s Law, named after a 13-year-old victim of a repeat drunk driver. The legislation was intended to impose increasingly lengthy license suspensions on repeat DUI offenders, with a lifetime suspension for the third offense. But the law’s language narrowly defined what constituted a DUI conviction, and allowed some drunk drivers to avoid their first strike under the law by entering into a substance abuse program. The Massachusetts Senate voted unanimously to amend the law to cover all DUI offenders.
Drug-related DUI laws are even more varied. Last month, Lawyers.com reported on marijuana DUI statutes and found that several states consider drivers to be under the influence for having any measurable amount of marijuana metabolites in their urine. The inert metabolites, which have no intoxicating effects, can remain in a person’s urine for weeks after their last marijuana use.