Recently in Vehicle Stops Category

June 21, 2010

Field Sobriety Testing in Pennsylvania: Refuse, Refuse, Refuse

When a police officer suspects that a driver has been operating his or her vehicle under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, they will often ask them to perform a field sobriety test. My office consistently advises our clients to refuse to submit to such testing. However, more often then not, drivers will do as they are asked. Submission to such a test, especially if you have been drinking is likely to result in your arrest for DUI. In Pennsylvania, field sobriety tests are not mandated by law. You have no obligation to submit to them. They are used by the police to establish probable cause in order to arrest you for DUI and WILL be used against you at trial to justify your arrest.

Field sobriety tests are designed so that a police officer will be able to pick out certain physical characteristics of intoxication. Officers will employ such tests as the standing on one leg test where police instruct the suspect to stand on one leg, with the other foot suspended about 6 inches off the ground and count aloud. The officer will then time the suspect for thirty seconds. The officer is looking for indicators of impairment such as swaying while balancing, using arms to balance, hopping to maintain balance, not counting in order and putting the suspended foot down. Attempting to perform this test sober is difficult for many people and if you have been drinking will be nearly impossible.

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June 17, 2010

Implied Consent Law for DUI in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania's implied consent law is a civil penalty applied by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that requires all motorists to submit to a chemical test of your breath, blood or urine if you are arrested for DUI. It is the duty of the police officer to provide you a simple warning that your operating privilege will be suspended upon refusal to submit to chemical testing.

Chemical testing can come in the form of a breath test, urine sample or through blood testing. Refusal to submit to these tests after you have been arrested for DUI in Pennsylvania can be punished by a one-year driver's license and up to three days in prison. For this reason my office recommends to clients that they do no refuse to submit to these tests.

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May 26, 2010

The Holiday weekend in Pennsylvania brings fun in the sun along with DUI checkpoints

The warm days of summer are quickly approaching! This means parties and barbeques with family and friends. It means drinks by the pool and early evening visits to the deck at your local watering hole. With the upcoming holiday weekend, along with what is sure to be an exciting weekend for Philadelphia hockey fans, it also means that local police departments will be setting up DUI checkpoints throughout the area. As the weekend approaches, well before you don your swim trunks and sandals or your best orange and black Flyers shirt, be sure to check your local newspaper for public notification of the potential locations for DUI checkpoints. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will also publicly notify upcoming checkpoints. Rarely will either of these disclose the exact location and time, however, it is a good idea to be aware of what towns and areas in they will be located. If you decide to party this holiday weekend, my office suggests the best way to avoid a DUI prosecution is to designate a sober driver. However, if you do get caught at one of these checkpoints and have had a few too many, hiring quality legal representation is ideal--there are strict rules governing police officers that conduct these checkpoints and their mistakes may provide you with legal options.

In order to comply with Federal and state Constitutional rights against search and seizures, Pennsylvania police officers must adhere to what are commonly referred to as the "Tarbert-Blouse" guidelines (named after a series of Pennsylvania State Supreme Court cases dealing with checkpoints in the 1980's).

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May 17, 2010

Pennsylvania DUI: Don't Do the Cops' Job For Them!

If you have ever been pulled over for a minor traffic violation such as speeding, you already know that most of the time the first words out of the officer's mouth are, "do you know why I pulled you over?" Unfortunately it's most people's instinct to respond as honestly as possible even though they know that they have done something wrong. Police officers already know this, and they rely on that natural instinct as an investigative tool.

If a police officer has reason to suspect that a driver may have been drinking alcohol (i.e. late at night, seen leaving a bar, unusual driving) the next questions will be, "Where are you coming from?" and "Have you been drinking?" DO NOT DO THE OFFICER'S JOB FOR HIM. As a former prosecutor I know that the next words coming out of your mouth can make or break a case.

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May 14, 2010

Maybe Judges Shouldn't Believe Everything the Police Say in DUI Cases

In order to be convicted of a Pennsylvania DUI, the police must have reasonable suspicion to pull you out of the vehicle to conduct field sobriety tests. At the police academy officers are trained to look for clues that you are intoxicated. The clues clues usually are: strong odor of alcohol, glassy eyes and slurred speech. The police always write these clues down in their police report to cover themselves in court. Like clockwork, every DUI police report I ever read said "there was a strong odor of alcohol coming from the vehicle, the defendant had glassy eyes and slurred speech." In the legal world this is what lawyers call "boiler plate" language. Boiler plate language means standard words put in a document to cover the author's rear end. The author puts these words in the document without even thinking about it.

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March 30, 2010

Stopped for Pennsylvania DUI: They Didn't Read My Rights

Lately, I have been asked this question quite frequently: "I was arrested for a DUI in Pennsylvania and they didn't read me my rights. Don't they have to read me my rights?" This question is particularly interesting in a DUI context. Before we can understand whether or not we must be read our rights during a DUI stop we must understand some Miranda basics.

The reading of Miranda rights or "the right to remain silent and the right to counsel" protect citizens against your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and your Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel under the United States Constitution The purpose of Miranda is to protect citizens from incriminating themselves as a result of police interrogation. In other words, it keeps people from giving the police a coerced confession under police interrogation. In order for Miranda to apply, three elements must be met that will trigger the reading of your Miranda rights: 1) you must be in custody; 2) you must be interrogated and 3) the interrogation must be performed by police or an agent of the state.

In a DUI context, a traffic stop typically does not consitute custodial interrogation for purposes of Miranda. In other words, a traffic stop is not an arrest. Under Pennsylvania law and the laws of the United States Constitution a DUI stop is typically considered an investigative detention. This means when you are pulled over for suspicion of DUI, the police may ask you whatever they want without reading you rights. They may even ask you to step out of the vehicle and ask you to perform sobriety tests. If you think about it, it makes sense. Think of it this way: "the police are allowed to talk to people without reading them rights as long as the citizen is not under arrest." However, an investigative detention may elevate to a custodial detention if the police officer's behavior becomes coercive, threatening, or forceful or detains you for a too long a period of time.

If you are pulled over and a potential DUI defendant, this is where you have to be smart and live by this rule. NEVER TALK TO POLICE AND BE A WITNESS AGAINST YOURSELF. Simply decline any conversation with the police and decline sobriety testing.

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