The Marc Lopez Law Firm deals with DUI / OVWI cases every day. Most DUI / OVWI arrests result from one of three scenarios: a traffic violation, an accident investigation or a sobriety checkpoint. Depending on the specifics, each of these situations has factors that need to be taken into account.
Under Indiana law, a police officer can pull you over if he “believes in good faith” that you’ve “committed an infraction or ordinance violation.” While this may sound like a meaningful standard, the investigating officer doesn’t actually need to hold this belief in good faith—he just needs to assert it.
Following the United States Supreme Court, the Indiana Court of Appeals has confirmed that a police officer’s subjective motives are irrelevant. A stop will be considered valid if there’s a justifiable reason for it. So the statute says the officer needs to believe something, but the case law says beliefs don’t matter. Pretty straightforward, right?
On top of that, the officer’s “belief” about your conduct doesn’t need to be accurate, and he doesn’t even have to tell you why he’s stopped you. The only requirement is that if an officer does make a stop for a traffic violation, he must do so in full uniform or in a fully-marked police vehicle.
Officers are trained to spot clues. When performing a traffic stop, they can absolutely use their observations as evidence of your intoxication. Police look at things like:
- the amount of time it takes you to pull over;
- how smoothly you maneuver to the side of the road; and
- whether you make it safely to the shoulder.
No single factor definitively points to intoxication, but each one might be a piece of the puzzle. Many experienced officers will admit that people have a tendency to do odd things when they see flashing lights and panic. In spite of this, many officers make little effort to distinguish between signs of anxiety and preliminary signs of intoxication.
Once the vehicle is stopped, you (as the driver) are obligated to prove that you’re licensed to operate the car. If you don’t have your license or permit on you, that itself is an infraction. If you’ve never had a valid license, that’s also a crime. In the absence of a state ID, Indiana statute requires you to identify yourself by name, address and date of birth. Withholding this information from law enforcement constitutes a Class C misdemeanor.
If you’re a passenger in a vehicle that’s been stopped, the rules are a little different. There’s nothing a passenger must immediately do, but you should probably remain on your best behavior. If you (a passenger) exit the vehicle without permission, the officer can lawfully order you to get back in the car.
Indiana courts have arrived at the conclusion that the brief detention of an innocent passenger is a small price to pay for the safety of law enforcement. If the passenger declines the request to remain into the vehicle and starts walking away, they will likely be charged with the crime of resisting law enforcement.
Using this same rationale, the United States Supreme Court has likewise held that an officer can lawfully order the driver and passengers to exit a stopped vehicle without violating the Fourth Amendment. Failure to comply will likely result in the police physically removing you from the vehicle. If they have to, officers will break the window in order to get you out of the car. If you oppose them, you’ll almost certainly be charged with resisting law enforcement.
No matter who was at fault, if there was more than one vehicle involved in the accident, it’s best to remain on the scene. Leaving the scene of an accident is a crime in and of itself. If another person’s been hurt, and your failure to render aid contributes to their injuries getting worse, your charges can increase in severity.
On the other hand, if you’ve been drinking, and you’re the one who caused the collision, the fact that you stuck around and attempted to help will look a lot better than if you had fled the scene. When it comes to time to sentence you, this is what the Court may refer to as a “mitigating factor.”
Again, officers are trained to spot clues. When police investigate an accident, they pay attention to the way you hand them the documents they’ve requested, your demeanor as you answer questions, and whether your clothes look messy or disordered. All of an officer’s observations inform their professional opinion with regard to your conduct.
The Marc Lopez Law Firm doesn’t like checkpoints. The idea of randomly stopping people for the purpose of confirming their sobriety is problematic, to say the least. It raises serious questions of ethics and constitutional law. In addition to the high-brow issues, there’s the matter of practicality: Checkpoints are incredibly ineffective.
In Indianapolis, for example, a typical checkpoint is staffed by 10-14 police officers. On average, an operation like this will produce two or three DUI / OVWI arrests by the time it wraps up. In a moment of candor, a supervising officer will admit that if those same police were assigned to roving patrols, they’d almost certainly catch more drunks than they do when they’re posted up on the same street corner for hours at a time.
A reasonable person might wonder why the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department would even bother wasting resources on such ineffectual law enforcement, but as it turns out, it’s not their own resources that they’re wasting. The police receive grant money for their dog and pony shows, so the cost of the checkpoint doesn’t even come out of the law enforcement budget. If they don’t put on the show, however, they don’t get their grant money.
Being stopped at a sobriety checkpoint is not the same as being stopped for a traffic violation, so it’s not entirely clear whether you’re required to present identification in this context. If your goal is to make it safely and swiftly through the roadblock, you probably shouldn’t get argumentative with the gatekeepers. Try to remain cooperative, and remember that actively withholding your identity from the police might make them suspicious.
If you or someone you love is facing DUI / OVWI charges, call the Marc Lopez Law Firm at 317-632-3642, and remember—always plead the 5th!