To begin with the obvious, you should never get behind the wheel of a car
if you are drunk. The legal, financial, and criminal consequences of being
operating while intoxicated (OWI) can have a profound impact on your life and severely limit your employment
options for years to come. With that being said, you do not have to be
drunk in order to be arrested and found guilty of OWI. Even driving with
a minimal amount of alcohol in your system can cause you to wind up in
the back of a squad car on OWI charges – even if you are completely
sober. All it takes is an officer’s word saying that you were “impaired”
to find yourself in legal trouble. It is imperative you drive responsibly
and remain aware of your rights during a OWI traffic stop to prepare yourself
for this type of situation.
When Can a Police Officer Pull Me Over?
To protect innocent people from being arrested, police officers must have
a valid reason to pull over a motorist, known as probable cause. Law enforcement
officials must be able to witness some sort of moving violation or evidence
of wrongdoing in order to pull someone over, such as driving at inappropriate
speeds, swerving between lanes, running stop signs, a broken taillight,
or expired registration tags. A police officer may not pull you over if
they do not have a valid reason. Similarly, sobriety checkpoints are not
authorized in Wisconsin.
Should I Answer the Officer’s Questions?
If a police officer pulls you over, it is important you remain polite and
hand over your license and registration without contest. With that being
said, you do not have to give them any additional information. The officer
may ask you questions about where you were going, where you were coming
from, or if you have had anything to drink in an effort to determine if
there is enough evidence to arrest you for OWI. You have a right under
the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution to remain silent
and protect yourself against self-incrimination, though the officer will
not remind you of this right until they have already secured your arrest.
Since anything you say can and will be held against you, it is best to
just stay silent. Being argumentative or belligerent will only draw suspicion
to yourself and worsen your situation.
Police officers will be looking for the following:
- Slurred speech
- Bloodshot eyes
- Smell of alcohol on your breath
- Signs of confusion
Do I Need to Take a Breathalyzer or Sobriety Test?
No. If you have not been arrested, you do not have to submit to any field
sobriety tests of handheld breathalyzer tests. Similar to an officer’s
initial questioning, these tests are solely for the purpose of giving
an officer enough evidence to secure your arrest and can only hurt you
– even if you think you can pass them. Refusing these preliminary
tests may frustrate an officer.
If a police officer threatens you to take their tests as requested, clearly
and respectfully state that you will perform the tests as requested but
do not consent to them. This statement is key, as it can be used to suppress
the results of these tests later in court. If you are arrested, however,
these chemical tests
are mandatory and can bring a lengthy driver’s license suspension if
refused. It is best to submit to this test and contact an attorney as
soon as possible.
When Can a Police Officer Search My Vehicle?
A police officer may only search your vehicle with a search warrant or
with your consent. While anything in plain view within your vehicle may
be confiscated without a warrant, officers may not search for anything
held within your vehicle’s trunk, glove compartment, or other hidden
area without authorization from a warrant or your approval. Do not ever
knowingly consent to a search of your vehicle.
I’ve Been Arrested! What Do I Do?
In the event that the police should gather enough evidence to secure your
arrest, it is best to remain silent and contact a powerful
criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. At the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella,
our Milwaukee OWI defense lawyer has been defending the accused for more
than 20 years and can provide the powerful legal advocacy you need during
this difficult time.
To find out more about what our firm can do for you, schedule a free consultation online
or call our office today at (414) 882-8382.