What to do or not do in an OWI stop: That is the question

What could be worse than heading back to your dorm or apartment on a Saturday night after kicking back with a few friends, only to be pulled over by Eau Claire police and accused of intoxicated driving? Actually, most Wisconsin college students can likely think of quite a few things that could be worse, but this certainly ranks high for ways to ruin a weekend. Often, police make an initial traffic stop for something that does not involve alcohol.

Perhaps, your tail light was out or an officer thought you were driving a little too fast. There could be other reasons as well, but stress levels can quickly escalate if you hear words such as, "Is that alcohol I smell?" or "Please step out of the vehicle" when pulled over by police. What you say and do from that point on may significantly impact your future and affect whether you face OWI charges.

Bad ideas

There are several things to avoid during any traffic stop, particularly one where an officer has accused you of drunk driving. Even though you're under investigation (and, if you've been pulled over and asked to step out of your car, you are, indeed, under investigation), you still have rights. However, cooperation is typically high on the list of ways to increase your chances of obtaining a positive outcome. Following are several things you might want to avoid:

  • It's generally not a good idea to refuse to take field sobriety tests if police ask you to do so.
  • Refusing a Breathalyzer or similar test is legal but often results in automated penalties that may include a driver's license suspension.
  • Not informing an officer that you have a gun in your car can lead to all sorts of complications.
  • There's also such a thing as providing too much information; mentioning prescription drugs you take or the fact that you "only" had three beers might backfire on you in court if authorities later file DUI charges against you.

While you'd obviously not be the first college student to face such circumstances, no two situations are exactly the same, and just because a particular outcome develops in one case does not mean the same will occur in another. Therefore, knowing your rights and making wise choices during interactions with police can help you avoid serious problems.

Good ideas

Just as there are words and actions to avoid when police pull you over, there are also ways to protect your rights and improve your chances for avoiding long-term negative consequences. Here are a few basic ideas to keep in mind:

  • Once you safely pull over and stop, it's typically a good idea to keep your hands where the officer can see them.
  • Answering questions with "yes" or "no," without asserting further information is usually the way to go, unless an officer has asked for your address or something of that nature. The idea is to be polite and cooperate without providing information that can be incriminating.
  • Having your driver's license and vehicle registration and insurance information readily available helps avoid fumbling or appearing unsure of yourself when an officer asks to see these items.

If police arrest you and charge you with OWI, it not only ends your pleasant evening, it can also create serious obstacles to your college success. Although such situations are not all that uncommon in college towns, outcomes vary greatly and often depend on how one addresses the matter in court. Successful results often hinge upon experienced and aggressive defense representation. Speaking to others who have obtained favorable outcomes or meeting with a skilled attorney are two options that typically have positive effects on situations like yours.

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Eau Claire, WI 54701

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