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Your Rights During an OWI Stop


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 convicted of 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.

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