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DUI and Miranda Warnings in Charlotte DWI Arrests

What if the police officer does not read me my Miranda rights during a DUI arrest?

If you are arrested and charged with a Mecklenburg County DWI and you are not read your Miranda rights, the only real effect this omission will have on your case is that any statements made while in custody, in response to interrogation, will not be admissible. DUI cases are treated differently than other criminal charges. However, you can still decline (refuse) to participate in almost every aspect of a DUI stop and investigation. Just understand that there will be consequences even before you are convicted of the alleged crime. We will explain further below what you should do at each of the various stages of a typical DWI investigation and arrest.

Fifth Amendment and DUIMiranda protections during a police stop

Our clients are good, law abiding citizens who believe in law and order. They support the police and want to be respectful and cooperative at either a check point or during a traffic stop. That’s commendable and expected behavior, of course. However, you should also keep in mind that questions asked by police have a specific purpose. If suspected of impaired driving, that purpose is to gather evidence to be used later to incriminate you. By the time they start asking questions, the police have already smelled alcohol on your breath. So, when they ask where you have been, they are wanting you to admit you have been at a bar. When they ask how much you have had to drink, the police are looking for volume and type of alcohol consumed.

Do you have to answer questions during a police stop?

Although it may be considered bad form or even impolite, the only actual information you are legally required to give is your name and address. You must also present your driver’s license when requested. And, of course, you must exit your vehicle when directed to do so. The police are in charge at the street, and you should follow their requests. Nevertheless, you still have the right to politely decline to answer most questions. All that is necessary to say is that you “prefer to not answer any questions until you speak with an attorney.” Police do not like being told “no” and judges may similarly conclude you were being uncooperative. But isn’t that the whole idea behind your right to not self-incriminate. Always remember that the more information you voluntarily provide, the more evidence the State will have to prosecute you.

Miranda and field sobriety testing

As part of the DWI investigation process, drivers who are stopped on suspicion of impaired driving or are later suspected of being impaired after a routine stop are asked to submit to field sobriety tests. These tests usually include three standardized tests, including the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), walk-and-turn (WAT), and one leg stand (OLS) tests. Officers can also sometimes use other types of unvalidated field tests, such as reciting the alphabet or number counting backward exercises. The results of such testing is used to develop “probable cause” to arrest. Even though suspects are not “free to leave,” and thus, arguably in custody, any evidence gathered may be freely admitted at trial without running afoul of Miranda or the Fifth Amendment right to not self-incriminate. How is this possible? Courts have taken the unusual view that suspects are not in actual police custody while they are temporarily detained for a traffic stop and are asked a moderate number of stop-related questions. Also, your rights are effected when the disputed evidence is testimonial or communicative in nature. Field sobriety testing, on the other hand, has been characterized as physical in nature and not protected.

Do you have to submit to field sobriety testing?

The simple answer is “no,” and there are no consequences unlike if you refuse to submit to breath testing. No reason has to be given to the officer. Many people try to justify their reluctance by reciting friends have told them not to or that they have certain physical ailments. Again, let’s keep this simple. All you have to say is that you respectfully decline to do anything until you speak with an attorney. Of course, at this point, you can expect to be arrested, handcuffed and put into the back of the police car. But here is the dirty little secret. This was going to happen anyway no matter how hard you tried to perform these “tests.” These tests are virtually designed to make you fail. The HGN test is subject to any number of flaws if not administered properly and correctly. The WAT and OLS tests require unnatural acts of “balancing” and ergonomically flawed feats. The only persons who can successfully navigate these tests are the officers who have performed them hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Juries also routinely overestimate the value of such tests and will vote to convict for “swaying” or losing balance despite the tests’ inherent difficulties. Here especially, less is more.

The limited truth of Miranda in DUI arrests

In short, the practical legal effect of Miranda’s promise of protection is misleadingly limited to statements made by a defendant after being placed into custody. Such protections are further limited to only those statements made in response to questions designed to elicit an incriminating response. Confused at this point? That’s easy to appreciate. Only barbers can split hairs greater than lawyers. Just remember this – in essentially every DWI case, the most incriminating statements are made in the first few minutes following a traffic stop, well before being arrested and taken into custody. Accordingly, those statements are not protected by Miranda at all. And, Miranda will similarly do nothing to prevent your breathalyzer (BAC) results from being admitted into evidence, nor will it limit the officer’s testimony of his observations of purported visible signs of impairment. This is why it is so important to simply exercise the first right in the series and “remain silent.” Give the officer your driver’s license, get out of the car when directed, and then politely decline to answer any other questions or try to participate in any other request until you speak with a lawyer. The State will then be left with substantially less evidence against you, and your lawyer will have more to defend you. Miranda may not be of much help in a DWI stop, but knowing and exercising your rights may make the difference between a “guilty” and a “not guilty” verdict. It may even prevent a trial altogether if the State cannot establish proper probable cause to arrest.

DUI cases are are complex. The laws are difficult. The punishment, even for a first time offense, is harsh. Before making any decisions, you should first consult with an experienced Charlotte DWI attorney for initial answers and potential options. Call our office today to schedule a time to personally meet and review your case. The DUI lawyers at Aaron Lee PLLC focus their criminal practice on DWI arrests. We would be honored to see what help we can provide as you and your family face this most difficult time. You can reach Mr. Lee directly by calling his personal mobile phone 704.222.7525 or send him an email at aaron@leeandleelawfirm.com. The information he will share will help you sleep better tonight and allow you to know what you are facing and what can be done. Call us now.