What Are My Rights?

What are my rights?

When you are pulled over by a law enforcement officer, many of your Constitutional rights come into play. While an officer can legally request your driver’s license, your vehicle registration and proof of insurance, you have a right—pursuant to the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States—not to incriminate yourself. This is commonly referred to as “the right to remain silent.” It is not necessary, if you have been pulled over, to be utterly silent. In general, you will not damage your defense to a charge of driving while impaired, for instance, by identifying yourself and by calmly notifying an officer that you will invoke your right to remain silent should he or she desire to question you further. Again, the best thing you can do is stay calm and be polite and cooperative. You must also invoke your rights, and you must not allow an officer to trick you or coerce you into thinking that you have to participate in the investigation against you.

If you invoke your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and an officer persists in questioning you, you may then ask to have an attorney present before answering any questions. By doing this, you invoke your right to have counsel present, a right you have under the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. In addition to your right to have counsel present during critical stages of proceedings against you, when you invoke the right, officers must cease questioning you.

It is important that you do not engage in any further communication with officers after invoking your right to have counsel present. If officers persist on questioning you anyway, simply defer all questions to your attorney. You do not have to look up an attorney on the spot and make contact with him or her; it is sufficient to let officers know that they can refer their questions to your attorney once you have secured one.

Can invoking my Constitutional rights stop me from being arrested?

The circumstances of every case are unique, and it is impossible to dream up—ahead of time—the legal result that will ensue on every set of facts. Even seemingly obvious facts lead judges and juries to wrong conclusions that are either upheld or overturned on appeal.

The bottom line is that if an officer pulls you over and suspects you are driving while impaired, there is very little you can do to prevent your own arrest. If you violated traffic laws and were pulled over, the violations of the traffic laws may, in and of themselves, serve as probable cause to believe you were driving while impaired. Once you are pulled over, an officer may observe that your eyes are red or glazed-over, that your speech is slurred, or that you smell like alcohol. These observations may, coupled with your driving, provide an officer with probable cause to arrest you for driving while impaired.

Are there consequences for invoking my Constitutional rights?

It is important for you to understand that there are significant legal consequences for invoking your Constitutional rights during an encounter with a law-enforcement officer who is investigating you for driving while impaired. If an officer asks you to perform field-sobriety tests and you refuse, your refusal can be used against you in a court of law. The more serious consequences of your refusal to cooperate with chemical analysis such as license revocation and other penalties, depending on your driving record, are covered in greater detail here.

It is also important to note that if you refuse to submit to a chemical test, which you are legally allowed to do, there is a very small window of time in which you can request a hearing with the Department of Motor Vehicles on the refusal so it is imperative that you consult an attorney as soon as possible after your arrest in this case.

The bottom line is that, at least at the time of your arrest, stay calm, stay quiet and stay the course. Your words and actions will decide your case—not the officer who is arresting you. Do not participate in building a case against yourself. You have a legal right to refuse to perform field sobriety tests, and you should refuse.

To put it plainly, all you are doing if you agree to undertake field sobriety tests is helping an already suspicious officer build a case against you. Again, be polite and respectful, but if asked to perform field sobriety tests, refuse. You do not have to explain why you will not perform the tests, and you cannot be forced to perform them. Do not be goaded, or prompted, into conversation or explanations as to why you will not perform the tests.

Remember, an officer will be using everything you say against you to try to prove that you have committed the offense of driving while impaired. That means the less you say, the less an officer has to use against you.

Contact us today

If you or someone you know has been pulled over for driving while impaired or for driving while under the influence of alcohol, contact one of the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC.  Our attorneys are fighting on behalf of drivers charged with DWI nearly every day in courtrooms across North Carolina. Give one of our experienced DWI defense attorneys a call today at (704) 370-2828 to set up an appointment.