You go out with friends for a couple of drinks and dinner. Things are going well, and next thing you know it is 11:00 p.m. and you have violated the old rule of thumb of one drink per hour. You think about it, and decide that you feel OK and need to be somewhere in the morning so you do not want to leave your car and have someone give you a ride home. You have forgotten your lucky rabbit’s foot and as you turn the corner out of the municipal parking lot there is police officer on foot patrol who radios another police officer to watch for your car as you turn off of Dickson Street heading home.
The police officer sees your car as you turn onto College Avenue and he “observes” that your license plate tag light is out, that you failed to signal your turn, that you crossed into the oncoming traffic lane when you made the turn, that your left-side tires crossed the center line, and radar confirms that your speed was 41 MPH in a 35 MPH zone. Blue lights suddenly appear, your heart jumps up into your throat, adrenaline seizes you, and you start wishing you had saved the telephone number for that attorney you met last month in a bar. After a moment’s hesitation, you pull over and try not to panic.
The officer pulls up behind you, and waits a minute and another patrol car joins him. If you are smart and not too uptight you should be trying to get your driver’s license and registration handy, as the first thing the officer will do is ask for them. This is actually a test to see how you respond to questions and if your fine motor skills are affected. Many a DWI report will start with “when I asked Mr. Smith for his driver’s license and registration he gave me his credit card and dropped the registration”. He is also looking for the smell of any intoxicants, for blood shot or watery eyes, slurred speech, admission of drinking, inconsistent responses, and abusive or unusual statements.
Next while the officer is running a warrants check and driving history on you through the Arkansas State Police, he will ask you to step from the car and perform a serious of “Standardized Field Sobriety Tests” (SFSTs) consisting of Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Walk and Turn, and One Leg Stand. The officer may also ask you to take a portable breath test and/or perform some other sobriety tests which are not standardized and not admissible in Arkansas courts. After performing the test the officer will probably determine that you failed the SFSTs (because that is what he is trained to do) and then place you under arrest. You will then be placed in handcuffs, put in the police car and hauled down to the jail for a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) test. With some recent changes to Arkansas DWI law you will probably be given two breath tests and given the option to have another test of your choice such as another breath test or an actual blood test at a local hospital at your expense. You will then be booked into the jail, allowed your one phone call, have your driver’s license seized, given a 30 day temporary permit, allowed to make bond, and given an arraignment date.
If you are lucky or smart, you WILL NOT have posted bond for at least eight hours from the time of your stop so that if you do not have a defense to the DWI charges you will have credit for the mandatory one-day of jail that goes along with a DWI conviction. If you bond out after having served only six hours you are going to have to go back to jail for at least eight hours to serve the one-day minimum. This is because the Arkansas Attorney General’s office came up with the idea that eight hours equals one-day for DWI purposes. At least it is better than actually serving twenty-four hours.
The next thing that should happen is that you hire an experienced attorney with a practice focused on DWI defense to handle your arraignment and the defense of the case. If not you can go to the arraignment yourself and enter either a guilty or not guilty plea. Just as a side note, if you hire an attorney, you will only have to go to court one time, and you will usually receive a lower fine and or jail time even if you do plead guilty because the attorney can negotiate to have the other charges (no tag light, careless and prohibited driving) dismissed.
If you hire me, I will handle your arraignment, review the police reports and video to determine if the officer had probable cause to pull you over in the first place, such as whether the video clearly shows you license plate light, the speed of the police car following you in comparison to the radar, whether or not you were required to actually use a turn signal at that particular intersection, if the officer actually performed the SFSTs correctly (most do not), review the chemical tests and determine if the officer properly complied with all the statutory notice requirements. I will also assist you in obtaining a restricted driving permit during the period of your driver’s license suspension.
If there are issues with probable cause, SFSTs, chemical tests, or statutory notices we will discuss the case and determine if we need to schedule a trial. If there do not appear to be any issues I will negotiate a plea offer on your behalf and appear with you for your plea and sentencing. I will also assist you with the mandatory screening and classes necessary to have your driver’s license reinstated at the end of your suspension period.
© 2009, 2010, and 2020 – Paul D. Reynolds