Steer Clear of a Holiday DUI, But Know What To Do If Pulled Over

The holidays are here, bringing parties, merriment, and for some, maybe a drink or two. Or three. Which occasionally leads to the ill-advised decision to drive after drinking.

Don’t do it. If you’re lucky enough to avoid an accident, odds are you will be pulled over. A recent illustration of how a DUI can ruin your life comes to mind in former New York Mets General Manager Zack Scott. After spending nearly 20 years building a career as a respected baseball man, he ascended to the extremely exclusive, and well-paid, position of Major League Baseball GM. There are only 30 such jobs in the world, and he had one of them. But all of it, the job, salary and hard-earned reputation, vanished as a result of a single DWI arrest in early September.

Reading about this, I found myself asking how, in the era of Uber and Lyft, not to mention good old-fashioned cabs, would a guy making nearly a million dollars a year not opt for what was probably a 50- to 100-dollar ride service over risking everything? The fact is good people make bad decisions, and the alcohol impairment that led to him getting pulled over played a significant role in his decision to drive in the first place.

The best bet is to not get behind the wheel if there’s any question whatsoever. But if you end up being one of those good people who’s made a bad decision, here are a few things to know that might help mitigate the damage.

Stay Calm

You’re at the wheel and colored lights suddenly flash behind you or you spot a sobriety checkpoint ahead. In the latter case, drivers in Maryland can legally turn their car around to avoid a checkpoint. Furthermore, officers cannot stop you when turning unless you do something that justifiably compels a traffic stop.

In the event an officer has flashed his lights behind you, use your turn signal, slowly pull to the side of the road when it’s safe to do so and come to a complete stop.

Be Camera Ready

Everything you do and say is being recorded, both on the officer’s body camera and the one mounted to the cruiser’s dashboard. Anything you say or do is admissible in court so help yourself out by being cooperative. Address the officer as “sir” or “ma’am” and avoid being confrontational. You’re not going to talk your way out of anything, so be unfailingly polite, even if, especially if, you think you’re in the right.   

Admit Nothing

Here’s what you have to do by law when pulled over: Provide your name, driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. You do not have to answer any further questions, e.g., “have you had anything to drink tonight?”. The best thing you can do is stay silent. Remember, you’re on camera, so admitting to having drinks, even just one, can be used against you in court.

Never Submit To a Test

You are not legally required to agree to a field sobriety test. Such cognitive and balancing exams are difficult by design. Even if you’ve had one drink or nothing at all they can be tough to pass if you have poor balance or are nervous due to the situation. The same goes for breath, blood and urine tests, which can produce unreliable results for many reasons. When requested to take any sort of test, be firm but polite in your refusal. A simple “my lawyer advised me to never submit to a test” will do. However, there are repercussions for refusing a field test in Maryland, such as loss of license, mandated use of an expensive ignition interlock device and more. You can read more about this here.

Call for Help

If you’re arrested, remember rule #2 above all else. Stay camera-ready. The officer’s body cam and dashcam are still rolling, so everything’s on the record and fair game in court. Remain calm and cooperative, whether you’re in the wrong, right or somewhere in between. Belligerence has never helped anyone.

Contact a criminal defense lawyer the second you’re permitted. It’s best to have at least one name and phone number handy. Nobody expects to be arrested, but immediate access to a good attorney makes all the difference in the world.

Maryland has some of the toughest DUI laws in the country. A first offense can bring a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail. Twelve points will be assessed to your driving record, and your license may be revoked for up to six months. Beyond the official consequences, personal costs include higher insurance rates, potential job loss and more.

The best defense is taking full advantage of any number of driving alternatives – even a $300 Uber hit is infinitely less expensive than a DUI conviction. But if worse comes to worst, make sure you know what to do until you can bring in an attorney to help.