“But I only had two beers…”
The day felt like it would never end. My desk was covered with work so I skipped lunch. The phone has been ringing non-stop and if my boss sends me one more email I’m going to lose it. It’s Friday and I can’t wait for 5:00 p.m. when I can head off to a local watering hole to enjoy happy hour with my friends. Who doesn’t love cheap beer and appetizers? So I have two tall beers, nibble on some potato skins and say goodbye to my girls feeling relaxed and ready for the weekend. Until….
Driving home I get pulled over. Ugh…. Did I run a stop sign? Was I speeding? “Hello Ma’am,” the officer says. “Have you had anything to drink tonight?” I’m slightly caught off guard. There’s no way I’m drunk, plastered, hammered or intoxicated. I feel fine and I only had a few drinks. Before I know it I’m out of the car performing some crazy walk and turn test and being arrested for DUI. What happened?
What many people don’t understand is that DUI in Virginia stands for Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs NOT driving while hammered or driving while so drunk you can’t stand up. All the Commonwealth has to do is show is that your driving is in some way influenced by the alcohol you drank or the drugs (prescription or illegal) you took.
What does it mean to be under the influence? It means a person has had enough alcohol or taken enough drugs to affect his/her manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance or behavior. This will not be the same for everyone. Two beers may have no impact on a 300 lb. offensive lineman but a petite ballerina may feel tipsy and unsteady after a few drinks.
So what do you do if you are pulled over and the officer suspects you of driving under the influence? First, be informed. If you take a breathylzer test you could be found guilty of DUI if your blood alcohol content is .08 or above. (Check out my last blog “To refuse or not to refuse. That is the question” for more information on breathylzer tests). But if you don’t take a breathylzer test you could still be found guilty of DUI. How? If the officer can show that you are driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
How will they show that you ask? Simple, by watching you and asking you questions. The officer will need to describe your actions and behaviors to the Judge so that he/she can convince the Court that you were driving while under the influence. For example, he will ask you how much you had to drink or what medications you took. This is to show that your poor driving or unsteadiness on your feet are linked to your alcohol/drug use and not something else. He may ask you to perform some field sobriety tests to show that you can’t recite the alphabet or walk in a straight line. Or in this day in age he might record you with his dash camera or bodycam. If a picture is worth a thousand words a video is worth a million.
If pulled over for driving under the influence listen carefully to the officer’s questions and be aware of your answers and your actions. Understand that you are not required to do the field sobriety tests if the officer asks. When deciding whether to refuse these tests remember that the more information the officer has to present against you, the easier it is to show that you were under the influence of alcohol/drugs. Unless you’re an expert in the one leg stand or walk and turn test you might want to carefully consider if it is in your best interest to take these tests.
So before you finish your drinks at happy hour and get into your car remember that you don’t have to be DRUNK, PLASTERED, HAMMERED OR FALLING DOWN to be found guilty of DUI. You could simply be driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. All it takes is running one stop sign for an officer to pull you over. Save yourself the heartache and money and call a cab, get a ride or drink some water and wait it out before you go home. Make smart choices and if you find yourself in trouble or need of a good lawyer call us at 7 Cities Law.