Searches, Tests and Interrogations: Understanding Your Rights (and Obligations) After an NC Drunk Driving Arrest

When you get pulled over by the police, understanding your legal rights (and your legal obligations) can be critical to minimizing the consequences of your traffic stop. If the police meet their obligations, any information your supply voluntarily can be used against you – even if you mistakenly believed that you were required to answer the officer’s questions or submit to a search – and this can lead to a conviction with steep penalties and long-term ramifications.

On the other hand, if you fail to comply with the law during your traffic stop (for example, by refusing a breath test), this can lead to additional charges and additional penalties. So, what do you need to know when you get pulled over for drunk driving in North Carolina? Here is a brief summary of the laws that apply:

1. Searches and Seizures

The police must have reasonable suspicion to pull you over, and they cannot arrest you without probable cause. If the police pulled you over without justification, this could be grounds to have any evidence obtained as a result of your traffic stop excluded from your trial. Likewise, if the police arrested you without probable cause, any evidence flowing from your arrest may be inadmissible in court.

This “probable cause” standard applies to searches during DUI/DWI traffic stops as well. If the police have probable cause to believe that you were drinking and driving, they can conduct a search of your vehicle and your person without violating your Fourth Amendment rights. The Constitutional search and seizure principles that apply to traffic stops are far more complicated than most people realize; and, even if you were drinking and driving, a violation of your Constitutional rights could still protect you from a DUI/DWI conviction.

2. Breath Tests

Under North Carolina’s “implied consent” law, when the police stop you on suspicion of drunk driving, you are obligated to submit to a breath test. If you refuse to take the Breathalyzer, the prosecution can use your refusal against you (to establish a “negative inference” that you knew you were impaired), and you can face an additional charge for your implied consent violation.

3. Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs)

Unlike the Breathalyzer, you are not required to submit to field sobriety tests (FSTs) during a DUI/DWI traffic stop. If the officer who pulled you over asks you to perform the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, the walk-and-turn test or the one-leg stand test, you are well within your rights to politely refuse.

4. Interrogations

Once you have been arrested, the police are required to read you your rights. These include the right to remain silent and the right to speak with an attorney. However, while you do not have to answer any questions, this doesn’t mean that the police aren’t going to ask. To avoid saying anything that the prosecutor’s office can use against you, it is important that you exercise your right to legal representation promptly after your arrest.

Speak with a Raleigh DWI Lawyer in Confidence

If you are facing DUI/DWI charges in Raleigh, our attorneys can protect your rights and help you fight to avoid a conviction at trial. To get started with a confidential consultation, please call (919) 833-3114 or send us your contact information today.