A night out with friends in Medina County can quickly turn from thoughts of good times and friendly conversation to a fear of going to jail when a patrol car appears in your rear-view mirror with its emergency lights flashing and the officer signaling you to pull over. Ohio has some of the toughest driving under the influence laws and the harshest penalties in the country.
Understanding what to expect and knowing your rights when pulled over by police in Medina, Wadsworth or Brunswick might help you to avoid making a mistake that could leave you with a criminal record, no driver’s license, and facing hefty fines and a possible jail sentence.
Police Need a Reason to Stop You
Contrary to what many people in Medina, Wadsworth or Brunswick believe, police officers cannot stop a driver without having reasonable suspicion to do so. Reasonable suspicion means that the officer observes something that based upon training and experience would lead a reasonable police officer to believe a motorist is violating any traffic law. Observing a motorist traveling at speeds well-below the posted speed limits might be an indication that the person has been drinking and is struggling to maintain control of the vehicle.
Roadblocks set up by police to catch people who are driving under the influence are exceptions to the usual requirement that police must have reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle for DUI. The United States Supreme Court ruled that sobriety checkpoints are exceptions to the usual requirements for a DUI stop as long as officers use a method that randomly selects the vehicles to be stopped.
For example, stopping every third vehicle at a DUI checkpoint would be in compliance with the Supreme Court decision. Problems would arise if officers stopped the second or the fourth vehicle. Deviations from the random selection require probable cause to do so.
What Happens When Police Stop a Vehicle?
Whether at a sobriety checkpoint or based upon observations of how a motorist is operating a vehicle, the first question an officer will usually ask a motorist is, “Where are you coming from?" followed by, “Have you been drinking?" The best thing a motorist who has consumed alcohol before getting behind the wheel can do is politely refuse to answer any questions until you have spoken to your attorney.
Police officers are trained to determine if there is probable cause to believe a person is intoxicated through carefully observing such behaviors as:
- Slurred speech
- Glassy or bloodshot eyes
- A noticeable smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath
- A driver’s inability to understand the officer’s questions
- Being unsteady upon exiting the vehicle or while attempting to walk
- Being argumentative or extremely talkative
- Fumbling while attempting to get a license out of a wallet or purse
Any of these behaviors taken in combination can be used against you in court to prove that you were intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol when stopped by the police.
Refusing Field Sobriety Tests
If officers have suspicion to believe that you are driving under the influence, they might ask you to perform standardized field sobriety tests. Unless a police officer has probable cause to make an arrest, a motorist is free to refuse to participate in field sobriety testing.
The standardized field sobriety tests include a horizontal gaze nystagmus or finger test in which the officer asks the motorist to follow a pen or finger using only eye movement as the object moves sideways in front of the person’s face. The officer is looking for an involuntary jerking motion in the eyes claimed to be caused by the consumption of alcohol.
The next test is the walk-and-turn test in which the driver is asked to walk a straight line in nine, heel-to-toe steps. At the end of the nine steps, the driver must turn on one foot and repeat the process in the opposite direction. The officer is looking for signs of balance problems or taking the wrong number of steps.
The last test is the one-leg stand in which the motorist is asked to stand on one foot for approximately 30 seconds. Police are looking for swaying and other indications of an inability to maintain balance.
Breath Testing Under Ohio Law
Ohio has an implied consent law requiring a motorist who has been arrested for DUI to submit to a breath, blood or urine test to measure blood alcohol concentration. Refusal to submit to the test in Medina, Wadsworth or Brunswick is punishable by the loss of your driver’s license for one year. A second refusal within six years will cause the state to take away your license for two years. The loss of driving privileges for a test refusal will result even if you are not convicted of DUI.
Motorists should be aware that Ohio implied consent laws do not apply to a request to blow into a device that is made prior to arrest and at the scene of the traffic stop. The device is a handheld instrument that police use in much the same manner as field sobriety testing to provide probable cause to make an arrest. Refusing to cooperate by giving a breath sample at the scene prior to arrest does not have the same consequences as refusing to submit to testing after an arrest.
Be Polite, Be Respectful and Know Your Rights
Asking to speak to an attorney before answering a police officer’s questions during a DUI stop is neither disrespectful nor does it violate the law. A Wadsworth, Medina or Brunswick motorist is not required to answer questions during the investigation stages of a DUI stop. Be courteous, but do not be afraid to exercise your rights.
If you’re facing a DUI/OVI charge in Medina County, Wadsworth or throughout Northeastern Ohio, contact the Law Office of Erb Legal LLC. In most instances, The Law Office of Erb Legal LLC offers flat fee options for Medina County and Northeast Ohio DUI/OVI cases. Please contact The Law Office of Erb Legal LLC for more information.
This blog is designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.