By Jedidiah McKeehan
Okay, so you have been pulled over by a police officer, probably late at night, and probably shortly after you’ve left an establishment that serves alcoholic beverages. The officer has already asked for your license, insurance information and (possibly) registration, which you are required to provide, and begins to inquire about your recent alcohol consumption. Asking how many drinks you had tonight, the officer suspects that you might be intoxicated. What do you do?
STOP AND THINK!!! Because the Fifth Amendment protects you from self-incrimination, you have the right to refrain from answering any and all questions that the police officer asks you. This means that you do not have to tell the officer how many drinks you had (or tell him you only had 2, which is what everyone says). You do not have to answer the interrogating questions. If you are afraid that you might slur your words or fear your nervousness will cause your speech to stumble, you have the right to remain completely silent or cite your right to refrain from speaking. If you do not say anything, the officer can’t testify later in court that you were slurring when he pulled you over. Your refusal to speak cannot be held against you.
Do NOT get out of your car unless the officer asks you to do so. First of all, police officers tend to get very defensive if you jump out of the car when they pull you over. The officer doesn’t know if you are armed or what your intentions are when you suddenly flee your vehicle, therefore it is not wise to give them the wrong idea or a reason to draw their weapon on you. The officer is likely experiencing some amount of nervousness (albeit not as much as you) when they pull you over. Don’t make it worse! If the officer orders you to get out of the car and asks you to perform any number of field sobriety tests, you are not required to complete any of these tests.
Field sobriety tests are NOT the same as chemical testing which is discussed below. Field sobriety tests check for coordination and balance–acts people don’t normally perform sober or drunk–can set you up for failure. You are not required by law to complete these tests and refusal to comply cannot be held against you. While these strange exercises are called “tests” to give them the feel of authority, they are merely subjective tests which are performed to give the police officer more “proof” that you are under the influence. No matter how well you perform these “tests” they can be manipulated and used against you in a court of law and officers can arrest you even if you feel that you passed the tests because they are based on the officer’s subjective opinion. Why incriminate yourself by trying to stand on one foot and touching your nose when you can barely do that stone sober? If you are charged with DUI based on failing sobriety tests, a review of the field sobriety test video will be critical to the validity of the test.
The breathalyzer is a device used by the police to determine your blood alcohol content. Although these tests are widely used, they do not always provide correct information about one’s level of intoxication. However, all states have what is called an Implied Consent Law. The government has decided that when you obtain a driver’s license, it is a privilege that comes with certain implicit obligations. By obtaining a license, you (unknowingly) have agreed to submit to chemical testing of your blood, breath, or urine, at the request of a police officer. If you refuse to comply with chemical testing, such as the Breathalyzer, you will receive automatic vehicle sanctions. Usually your license will be automatically suspended for failure to comply with chemical testing. If a chemical test shows that you have a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or greater, this is enough to prove that you are legally intoxicated and you may be arrested on criminal DUI charges.
While you must submit to chemical testing, these tests are not infallible and do not necessarily mean you will be convicted of a DUI.
In Tennessee, a DUI is a Class A misdemeanor charge with a minimum sentence for a first conviction of DUI is 48 hours in jail, but can be as much as 11 months, 29 days in jail with fines, court costs, loss of license for a year and community service assessed. A second DUI conviction carries a sentence of a minimum 45 days in jail, but can be as much as 11 months, 29 days in jail with fines, court costs, loss of license for 2 years and community service assessed. Never drive drunk, get a taxi or have a designated driver.