It’s the middle of the night. You are driving home from a local tavern or a buddy’s house. You’re tired and looking forward crawling into your nice warm bed. Much to your surprise, you see the lights of a police car in your rear view mirror. What was a nice evening, has just turned into a nightmare. You could lose your license, your job…even your freedom because the officer suspects you of driving under the influence. You stop, and after a few words with the officer (perhaps he smells that drink you had before you left), you are standing at roadside trembling with fear, when he asks you to perform field sobriety tests, some of which you couldn’t do on your best day. It’s One o’clock in the morning after a few drinks and you are far from your best. Are you doomed? Is it all over now? For many people this is the beginning of the end. But it doesn’t have to be.
First and foremost: This is not the time to get indignant. Be polite and cooperative with the officer. You don’t score any points by copping an attitude. The officer may take note of your good attitude in his report. He will most definitely mention it if you were belligerent. A bad attitude can affect the outcome of your case. Judges and prosecutors do not make good offers to defendants who are abusive to arresting officers. If you choose to take your case to trial, you will look like an angry drunk to the jury if you lip off to the officer.
There is quite a bit a good attorney can do, despite apparent poor performance on field sobriety tests. Through cross examination it is possible to chip away at what might appear to be a rock solid case due to field sobriety test results. The officer will undoubtedly report that your speech was slurred, deliberate or thick tongued. The officer has never met you before and has never heard you speak! Maybe you talk that way all the time. You were likely asked to walk a straight line while keeping your feet in a heal-to-toe position. You might make one mistake on this test and have it count as a failure. There are several elements to this test. You may have gotten 80% of them right yet still failed. Last time I checked, 80% was a B- not an F. A lot of these clues can be minimized by a skilled attorney.
Get to an attorney who regularly represents the accused in DUI/OWI cases as soon after you are released as possible. Fresh recollection is always better than memory that has diminished over time. Chances are the officer has generated his field notes the evening of your arrest. The report will generally be thorough and make note of every indicator of intoxication he notices. He is trying to build a case against you from the moment you step out of the car. I very rarely see information that has been included in a police report to make the accused look innocent! The police deserve our support for the good work that they do, but when they are placing you under arrest, despite what may be a friendly and professional demeanor, they are not on your side.
All is not lost if you failed your field sobriety tests. Most people arrested for drunk driving are ultimately convicted. However, a large portion of those people plead guilty at their first appearance. They are guaranteed a conviction. Many who hire lawyers will still be convicted. Perhaps they are facing jail time and accept an offer to plead in exchange for a shorter sentence. Maybe the deck is otherwise stacked and a plea is in your best interest. Despite the figures, a DUI/OWI case can be won-even if you failed your field sobriety tests. In fact, a large number of OWI acquittals are in cases where the officer reported failures on most if not all of the tests. If you or someone close to you has been in this position, the best advice I can give is to consult with an attorney who practices in this field regularly.
Drink responsibly and drive safely,