Top 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions about DWI
What do police officers look for when searching for drunk drivers on the highways?The following is a list of observations which may indicate that the person observed is driving while intoxicated. The list is based upon research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Administration:
oTurning with a wide radius
oStraddling center of lane marker
oAppearing to be drunk
oAlmost striking an object or vehicle
oDriving on other than the designated highway
oSpeed more than 10 mph below limit
oStopping without cause in traffic lane
oFollowing too closely
oTires on center or lane marker
oDriving into opposing or crossing traffic
oSignaling inconsistent with driving actions
oSlow response to traffic signals
oStopping inappropriately (other than in lane)
oTurning abruptly or illegally
oAccelerating or decelerating rapidly
oDriving with headlights off
Speeding, incidentally, is not a recognized clue of impaired driving. Too many people do it while sober.
If I'm stopped by a police officer and he asks me if I've been drinking, what should I say?You are not required to answer potentially incriminating questions. A polite "I would like to speak with an attorney before I answer any questions" is a good reply. On the other hand, admitting that you had one or two beers is not incriminating: it is not sufficient to cause intoxication -- and it may explain the odor of alcoholic beverages on your breath.
Do I have a right to an attorney when I'm stopped by an officer and asked to take a field sobriety test?No. However, you are not required by Missouri law to submit to field sobriety exercises. A polite "I would like to consult with an attorney before agreeing to take any field tests" is the best answer.
What is the officer looking for during the initial detention at the scene?The traditional symptoms of intoxication taught at the police academies are:
oRed, watery, glassy and/or bloodshot eyes
oOdor of alcohol on breath
oFumbling with wallet trying to get license
oFailure to comprehend the officer's questions
oStaggering when exiting vehicle
oSwaying/instability on feet
oLeaning on car for support
oCombative, argumentative, jovial or other "inappropriate" attitude
oSoiled, rumpled, disorderly clothing
oStumbling while walking
oDisorientation as to time and place
oInability to follow directions
Why did the officer make me follow a penlight (or finger or pencil) with my eyes to the left and right?This is the "horizontal gaze nystagmus" test. The officer is checking for the smoothness of the eye's tracking the penlight (or finger or pencil), distinct jerking when the eye is as far to the side as it can go, and the angle at which the eyeballs begin to jerk.
This field sobriety test has proven to be subject to a number of different problems, not the least of which is the non-medically trained officer's ability to recognize nystagmus and estimate the angle of onset. Because of this, and the fact that the test is not accepted by the medical community, it is not admissible as evidence in many states; it continues, however, to be widely used by law enforcement, and is admissible evidence in Missouri.
Should I agree to take a chemical test? What happens if I don't?oYour driver's license will be revoked for one year (two years if pending Bill passes)
However, in order to revoke your license, the Department of Revenue must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that there were reasonable grounds to believe you were intoxicated (i.e. probable cause) and that you actually refused to take the test (or did not cooperate). These are complex issues, but a good DWI attorney knows how to address them and give you an opportunity to avoid losing your license.
oThe fact of refusal can be introduced into evidence as "consciousness of guilt". Of course, the defense is free to offer other reasons for the refusal. Thus, the decision is one of weighing the likelihood of a high blood-alcohol reading against the consequences for refusing. You should request the opportunity to consult with a lawyer before making this decision. In Missouri, you must be allowed 20 minutes to call an attorney. Request it.
Do I have a choice of chemical tests?No, you do not. In fact, the officer can ask you to take two tests. These may be of the same kind (e.g., two breath tests) or a combination of tests (e.g. a breath test and a urine test).
The officer never gave me a "Miranda" warning, can I get my case dismissed?No. The officer is supposed to give a 5th Amendment warning after he or she arrests you. Often, however, the officer does not do so. The only consequence is that the prosecution cannot use any of your answers to questions asked by the police after the arrest.
Of more signficance is the failure to advise you of the state's "Implied Consent" law - that is, your legal obligation to take a chemical test and the consequences if you refuse. This can affect whether you license is suspended or revoked, and whether or not your refusal to take the test can be mentioned by the proseucuting attorney during your criminal trial.
How can I find a qualified drunk driving lawyer?The best way to find a good DUI/DWI lawyer is by reputation. There are a few attorneys who have national reputations; they, of course, are expensive. Thus, the best approach is to ask other attorneys in the jurisdiction: Who is the best in the area? If you do not know any attorneys, go to the local courthouse and ask bailiffs, clerks and public defenders: Who would THEY go to if arrested for drunk driving?
An excellent indication of the quality and experience of a lawyer in handling DWI cases includes such things as membership in the National College for DUI Defense, being a frequent lecturer on DWI law within the State, and recognition from other groups who acknowledge the attorney's accomplishments.
What will it cost to get a lawyer?This varies, of course, by the reputation and experience of the lawyer and by the geographic location. The more skilled the attorney and the larger the city, the higher the fee. A related factor is the amount of time a lawyer devotes to his cases: the better lawyers take fewer clients, spending more hours on each.
The range of fees is huge. A general practitioner in a small community may charge only $500 for a first offense; a DUI attorney with a statewide or national reputation may charge up to $15,000 or more for a third offense, depending on the facts. In addition, the fee may vary, depending on if it is a felony or midmeanor, and if the fee includes a jury trial, appeal fee, or a fee to handle the administrative license suspension procedures. The lawyer may charge a comprehensive fixed fee, or he may ask for a retainer in advance -- to be applied against hourly charges. Costs, such as expert witness fees, court reporter fees, etc.,may be extra. Ask for a written contract.