The Initial Traffic Stop
When the red and blue lights flash behind you, your sense of anxiety and heartbeat increase significantly. When you see the lights, it is important to get over to the right and pull off the road as far and as safely as possible. Anytime a Washington officer believes a crime or infraction has been committed, he or she may pull you over and you must stop.
A law enforcement officer will then ask for your driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance, which you should provide.
If the officer suspects that you are intoxicated, you are likely to be asked to step out of the vehicle. He or she may even ask that you perform a field sobriety test, which can include:
- a Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test,
- a Walk and Turn test, or
- a One Leg Stand test.
Field sobriety tests are often used as a method to determine probable cause for an arrest.
An officer may also ask that you blow into a breathalyzer. A breathalyzer is designed to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC). The per se legal limit is 0.08% in Washington. If your BAC is 0.08% or higher, you will be arrested and taken to jail for another breath test or a blood or urine test.
Drivers under the age of 21 can be arrested for a BAC of 0.02% or higher, and drivers of commercial vehicles can be arrested for a BAC of 0.04% or higher. You can also be arrested with no evidence of your actual BAC level so long as the officer believes you to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Refusing to consent to chemical tests can result in the automatic suspension of your driver's license. You are legally allowed to refuse, but it is considered a violation of the "implied consent" law and your license will typically be automatically suspended for 1 year. A prosecutor can also use your refusal as evidence against you in court.
What Not to Do During a Traffic Stop
While you should comply with any instructions provided by the police officer, there are certain things you are not required to do. Under the 5th Amendment to the U.S. and Washington Constitutions, you have the right to remain silent.
This means you do not have to answer an officer's questions about whether you were drinking or doing drugs. When asked these questions, it is best to remain silent. Lies to officers will do you no good, and any admissions can be used against you. Silence, however, cannot be used against you.
Consult a DUI Attorney
If you or someone you care about has been arrested for DUI in Tacoma or the surrounding area, you need an experienced DUI attorney to defend your case and protect your constitutional rights.