Common Misconceptions at Drunk Driving Stop
There are a number of misconceptions about your rights when the police stop you for drunk driving and how probable cause relates to what steps an officer can take. The intent of this article is to set the record straight on these commonly misunderstood points as they relate to Virginia.
Does an officer have to tell me why I was stopped?
Yes, when an officer pulls you over for a traffic violation, he needs to explain to you the reason he pulled you over. There is a wide variety of what may be considered erratic driving behavior that can give a police officer probable cause to stop you. Erratic driving behavior may include speeding, driving too slowly, failing to maintain your vehicle in your lane, tailgaiting, stopping suddenly, swerving, or other acts.
In addition, erratic driving behavior or your actions once an officer has pulled you over can give an officer probable cause to believe you are impaired or possibly have a blood alcohol content (BAC) above the legal limit. In Virginia, the legal blood alcohol content limit is .02% for those under age 21, .04% for those driving a commercial vehicle, or .08% for all other drivers.
If you refuse to take a field sobriety test in Virginia, your license will be automatically suspended for one year for the first refusal and for three years for each future stop and refusal to submit to a sobriety test. Even if you do not have a blood alcohol content above the legal limit for Virginia, the officer can still consider you to be too impaired to safely operate a vehicle and can take you into custody.
Can an officer search my car without my permission or without a search warrant?
Yes, if an officer has probable cause to believe you were drunk driving, he has the right to search your entire vehicle, as there may be evidence in your vehicle to support that criminal activity has occurred. The officer can perform this search without a search warrant.
Can an officer arrest me for Drunk Driving without reading me my rights or obtaining an arrest warrant?
Yes, an officer can arrest you for drunk driving without reading you your Miranda Rights. Miranda Rights must be read only once you are in police custody and the police are questioning you to obtain evidence for use in convicting you of a crime. However, if you openly admit information before you are in police custody, that information can be used as the basis for taking you into custody and can be presented in your trial, even though your Mirada Rights have not been read to you.
For example, if an officer pulls you over and says, I stopped you because you were not staying in your lane. Do you know why that was? and you respond by saying, It is probably because I had one too many drinks with dinner, your words can be used to help establish that you were drunk driving.
In addition, the police do not need to formally obtain an Drunk Driving arrest warrant in order to take you into custody for driving while impaired. If the officer observes erratic driving behavior and, upon stopping you, further behavior that gives them probable cause to believe you were drunk drivving, they will likely perform a field sobriety test. A field sobriety test can include skill tests as well as a breathalyzer test.