The DWI Process in Missouri. Part 2: The DWI Stop.
You’ve just left the bar, you’re paying close attention to the road and your speed, but despite all of that you hear the sirens and see the lights in the rear view mirror. After a couple of choice words you wouldn’t want your grandmother hearing you say, your mind starts racing with all the possible scenarios that are about to play out.
I bet you’re reaching for that stick of gum or getting out a cigarette to lite, thinking it’s going to mask the smell of alcohol on your breath. Well, if you think that’s going to help, you’d be wrong. When a police officer pulls someone over for suspicion of DWI, and the driver throws a piece of gum in their mouth really quick or rushes to lite that cigarette, all you’re doing is adding to the officer’s suspicion. This isn’t their first rodeo, they know exactly what you’re doing!
Now Come the Questions
As the officer approaches your car, he or she is going to start asking you some questions. This is an extremely important part of the entire process. While the questions may be standard, the officer really doesn’t care about your response. As the officer walked up to your window, he or she more than likely has already shined their light into your back seat. As you answer, you’ll notice the officer isn’t even looking at you and instead is looking into your car. Why is that? The reason is, they’re looking for evidence! If they see an open beer can or a little joint that you forget was in the middle console, the officer now has probable cause to search the vehicle. Under the Plain View Doctrine, as long as the officer sees illegal contraband from the outside of your car, without disturbing the vehicle, it will be considered enough probable cause for the officer to extend the stop and definitely search your car.
The questions will most likely start out like this:
Officer: My name is Officer so and so, do you know why I pulled you over?
You: No Sir or no Ma’am, I do not.
This is how you should answer the question, but unfortunately you’re nervous and you are most likely going to answer giving the officer even more evidence against yourself. For example, you might say, “I might have been speeding a little bit,” or “did I not use my turn signal back there?” Don’t do this! You’re only giving the officer more ammunition.
Don’t feel bad though, I’ve even done this before! I was pulled over for speeding down the highway. I told the officer I didn’t know why he pulled me over, even though I knew it was cause I was going about 80 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. After being informed the officer clocked me at 80 MPH, he asked how fast I thought I was going. I innocently responded “I’m not sure I think probably 60 MPH?” Well, I knew I was lying and the officer did too. On my speeding ticket it noted, “subject informed officer he was going at least 60 MPH.” Guess what, I just dug my own grave with that response! Moral of my story, don’t give up evidence against yourself! Now, back to the questions during DWI stop.
Officer: Have you had anything to drink tonight?
This is a trick question, you can’t answer this without getting yourself in trouble! The officer can probably smell the alcohol, so if you say no the officer will know you’re lying and if you are honest by saying yes, then that will just lead to more probing questions.
Officer: How many drinks have you had tonight?
If you’ve ever seen Cops or the new A&E show Live PD, you know the typical response to every DWI traffic stop is, “I’ve only have 2 beers officer.” Again, this isn’t their first rodeo and they’ve probably already been given that same response 4 other times that night. Your best bet when getting pulled over in this situation is to just respond with, “Officer, respectfully, I don’t feel comfortable answering any questions.” This is just a personal opinion and is in no way considered to be legal advice, but don’t think it’s going to end there.
Officer: Why don’t you feel comfortable answering any questions?
It’s their job to probe you until you break. They want to get that evidence against you so they don’t look like a fool when your defense attorney puts them up on the stand, rakes them over the coals and then gets the case dismissed because of their failures.
If you were to answer the officer’s questions or if you just tell him or her you don’t feel comfortable answering any questions, it’s more than likely not going to matter. The officer is going to ask you that final question that will make you heart drop and take the breath out of your lungs:
Officer: Can you please step out of the car for me?
Don’t mistake this for a polite request. The officer isn’t asking you, they’re telling you to get out of the car. And you know exactly why they’re wanting you out of the car, it’s time for the Field Sobriety Test! Stay tuned for the third part of this series, Part 3: The Field Sobriety.
For immediate help, guidance or advice, contact Howard Law at (314) 325-9868.
About The Author
Evan M. Howard is the managing attorney for Howard Law, a St. Louis business law and criminal defense law firm based in Clayton, Missouri. Focused on giving honest, quick and effective representation to all its clients. With a background in business and experience dealing with tough criminal prosecution cases, Howard Law is prepared to help guide you through your legal matter.