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Should you cooperate with police during a drunk driving stop?

With authorities stepping up enforcement efforts in Northern Virginia and across the state, a refresher on a driver's civil rights during a traffic stop may be in order. There are certain constitutional rights that every driver has, pursuant to the Fourth Amendment. Our criminal defense law firm is well acquainted with these rights because we focus on criminal law and drunk driving defense.

Accordingly, although a police officer may ask, a driver does not have to consent to a warrantless search of his or her vehicle. Of course, if the officer had probable cause to suspect criminal activity, he or she might not have to ask.

A driver also has the right to record or film a traffic stop, provided the activity is not interfering with the officer's work, which might constitute the offense of obstructing an officer. The duration of the traffic stop also cannot be indefinite. A general rule of thumb might be around 30 minutes, after which time a driver might ask if he or she is under arrest or free to go.

Ideally, a traffic stop won't escalate into an arrest. However, if a driver failed a field sobriety test, such as walking in a straight line, he or she might be facing an arrest for driving under the influence. At the moment of a DUI arrest, new procedures and rights apply. A defendant should request his or her right to have an attorney present, and decline to answer further police questions until legal counsel arrives.

Although emotions might be running high, this advice should be easy to follow because the arresting officer is required by law to remind a defendant of this right. Specifically, one of the first procedures that police must follow is giving the Miranda warning, which summarizes a defendant's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and to have an attorney present during police questioning.

Source: FindLaw, "Civil Rights During a Traffic Stop: 5 Reminders," copyright 2017, Thomson Reuters

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