As a DWI Lawyer in St. Louis and the surrounding counties, I have represented people charged with DWI offenses under several different circumstances. While it is true that no two cases are the same, there are several common mistakes that I see my clients make during almost every DWI investigation and subsequent arrest.
1. Thinking they can talk their way out of the arrest
One of the first things an officer is trained to do when investigating a possible DWI offender is to make observations about the driver that could be used as evidence of drunk driving or drug impairment. One of the most obvious is whether or not the driver’s speech is unusual. Specifically the officer is trained to look for 5 clues: Slurred, Confused, Incoherent, Stuttering, or Mumbling. The more you talk to the officer, the more opportunity that there is for them to make “observations” regarding your speech.
In addition to speech clues, the more you talk, the more likely the officer will be able to smell any odor on your breath. Odor of alcoholic beverages on a driver’s breath is another observation that an officer is trained to look for during their investigation of a suspected DWI offender.
Lastly, in my experience, police that are conducting a DWI investigation almost never “let you go” no matter how much you plead with them. If the officer is asking you how much you’ve had to drink, chances are they’ve already decided they are going to arrest you, and all they are doing by asking you questions is gathering more evidence that they can later use against you in the DWI prosecution.
2. Poor sobriety test performance
Admittedly, this one might seem a little bit obvious. The reason I included it on this list is for the simple reason that people so often agree to take the tests when THEY ARE NOT LEGALLY REQUIRED!!! Don’t get me wrong, if you haven’t had anything, or much at all to drink, good performance on the tests could be beneficial for your case. Poor performance, however, is not going to help your case. Further, there are several clues of impairment on each of the tests that officers are trained to look for, many of them are not obvious. What do I mean by that – you might “think” you did well on the tests, but in reality you could be exhibiting clues of intoxication you don’t realize. Clues of impairment that could come back to haunt you down the road.
3. Not having license & insurance ready when officer first approaches
Anytime you encounter law enforcement, whether you have been drinking, or not, it is best to have your license and insurance card in your hand and ready for the officer before they ask for it. This is especially true during a DWI investigation. Officers are trained to observe you while you retrieve your license or insurance card for any indication of fumbling or difficulty producing the proper documentation. Often times this will be the first opportunity for an officer to be alerted to the possibility that you have been drinking. Minimizing your interactions with the officer is important because it limits the potential for the officer to observe clues of impairment during the stop.
4. Admitting guilt to the officer
Now I know this one seems very obvious, and you might be asking yourself, who would do that?! As surprising as it may seem, I have lost count of the number of client’s I have that admitted guilt to the officer during a DWI investigation. Personally, I think this mistake is somewhat tied to the “talk your way out of it” mistake. Other people might genuinely feel remorse for making a foolish mistake of driving after a few drinks. Still others might admit guilt because they are simply trying to be honest with the officer. No matter what the reason is, I’ve never encountered a case where I thought the client made a good decision by admitting to the officer that they were drunk, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. While I don’t advise being dishonest with police, the simple truth is that whether or not someone is legally intoxicated is a question of law, and the difference between having a drink, feeling a little “buzzed”, and being falling down drunk is significant. Officers don’t differentiate because their job is to secure enough evidence for a conviction. I’m yet to find a cop who purposely sought out evidence to exonerate a DWI suspect!
5. NOT ASKING TO SPEAK TO YOUR LAWYER!!!
This is the least obvious, and absolutely the most common mistake I see when I defend people charged with DWI or DUI offenses. Officers do not inform you that you have the right to ask to speak with an attorney AT ANY POINT during their investigation. Specifically, if you are ever asked to submit to a breathalyzer or blood test, simply telling the officer you want to speak to a lawyer triggers a statutory 20 minute period during which the officer is legally bound to afford you the opportunity to contact a lawyer. Generally speaking, anytime you feel like you are the subject of a criminal investigation, DWI or otherwise, you shouldn’t make any statements to the police until you’ve had an opportunity to be counseled by your attorney. Even in the middle of the night, as a St. Louis DWI attorney, I take calls and answer questions, like “Should I blow?”
Being arrested for DWI can be a terrifying and emotional experience. No matter what you do to prepare, chances are that if you are in this situation you will make these mistakes, among others. The most important thing you can do to prevent being arrested for DWI is to never drive after you have been drinking. Aside from that, mistakes are made by both police and the public when it comes to a possible DWI. If you have been charged with a DWI you should contact your lawyer immediately to understand not only what your rights are, but also the possible consequences of the charge, and your options for fighting a DWI.
*The information and opinions contained in this document are in no way meant to create a client-lawyer relationship and are NOT LEGAL ADVICE. While this post is not meant as an advertisement for legal services, the choice of an attorney is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.