When it comes to drunk driving, the legal limit is .08. As long as you’re under that, you’re in the clear, right? WRONG. The cops can still nail you with a DUI, even if you didn’t blow over the limit or even if you didn’t blow at all. In this article, I will explain how they can do this and what you can do to fight it. In Washington State, where I practice as a criminal defense lawyer, it is NOT against the law to drink and drive. But it is illegal to drive drunk. There’s a difference. It is perfectly legal to go to happy hour after work or school with some friends and have a couple beers and then drive home. But if you drink beyond a couple beers, you are in danger of going over the legal limit of having a .08 blood alcohol content (BAC). Let’s say you get off of work and head to the pub down the street for a couple beers with a coworker at 5 0’clock in the afternoon. You discuss work, what you’re planning to do on the weekend, what you think of your boss, etc. while you play pool. You have 3 drinks and by the time you leave it is now 7:30.
On your way home, you see the flashing lights behind you. You pull over and give the office your license, registration and proof of insurance. You’re nervous, so it somewhat difficult to quickly find all of the documents the officer asks for. It turns out you failed to signal while making a lane change. The officer now claims that he detects the odor of alcohol on your breath and asks if you’ve been drinking. You tell the truth and say yes. Now the officer asks more specific questions about when and where you were drinking and how much you had. After this questioning, the officer asks you to step out of the car and perform a series of tests. They seem easy enough. The officer doesn’t say anything about you doing anything wrong on the tests. He asks if you’ll take a portable breath test right there on the street. You comply and you blow a .05. So you’re off the hook, right. WRONG. The cop puts you in handcuffs and takes you to the police station where he gives you another breath test! You still blow a .05. Now he keeps you in the “drunk tank” overnight!
Some cops can be jerks from time to time and you’re sure this guy was just harassing you. A couple months later, after you forgot all about this incident, you get a summons in the mail ordering you to appear in court for a DUI charge! You’re thinking “how can they charge you with DUI if you didn’t even blow over the legal limit?” Well, in Washington State, you don’t have to be over the legal limit to be convicted of DUI. The law says that you are also guilty of DUI if you were affected by alcohol to an “appreciable degree” while driving. Here’s where the field sobriety tests come in. The cops don’t always tell you if you’re performing well or poorly while you’re taking them. The test themselves have been subject to much criticism for being unreliable. The cops also use a checklist in every DUI stop where they observe your appearance, your coordination, and your speech. There are boxes on these reports for the cops to check indicating bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, poor coordination. When you fumbled for your wallet because you were nervous, the cop wrote down that you had poor coordination and that’s why you fumbled for your wallet.
What can you do to avoid this? The best way to avoid this scenario is to REFUSE THE FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS. They are not mandatory, you have the right to refuse, and there is no risk of having your license suspended for refusing. These tests can only be used to charge you with DUI. If you refuse, and you’re under the legal limit, it is much less likely that they will charge you. Also be aware of your appearance, speech, behavior, and your mannerisms. All of these things can be used as evidence that you are impaired. Do not, however refuse to take the breath test at the police station. You can refuse, but it will result in your license being suspended. You can still refuse the portable roadside breath test they try to give you. That test is inadmissible in court and like the field sobriety tests, you can refuse it without the risk of losing your license. For more information about DUIs and criminal defense in general, you can visit Lynnwood DUI lawyer.