A couple was arrested in New Jersey this week for two separate instances of drunk driving, each within six hours of each other according to a report from USA Today’s Daily Record. The boyfriend was the first to be arrested after a police officer responded to a call about a vehicle left on the side of the highway with its engine running, blinker on and keys in the ignition. After a lack of cooperation on the boyfriend’s part and a declined Alcotest (New Jersey’s breathalyzer program), he was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated, refusing a breath test, open container, consumption of an alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle, reckless driving, failure to exhibit registration, and disorderly conduct. He was then taken to jail to wait in a holding cell until someone could pick him up.
When his girlfriend arrived to do just that, officers noticed the smell of alcohol on her breath. She admitted to drinking earlier in the day, and upon taking the field sobriety test and an Alcotest exam, was discovered to have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .28%—well over the legal limit of .08%. She was then charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) and joined her boyfriend to wait for a family member to retrieve her from the police station.
The girlfriend’s arrest raises all sorts of questions about D.C. DUI law—like when and how a police officer can charge you with a DWI or DUI. Based on the article alone, the girlfriend wasn’t even driving the vehicle when she spoke with the officers. How could she have been arrested? After all, driving under the influence requires that the person was driving not just that they were under the influence.
DUI or DWI cases in Washington, D.C. require that prosecutors prove two things. First, the government must prove the defendant was “operating” the vehicle, which is defined very broadly according to DC law. Second, they must prove the defendant was under the influence or intoxicated through tests like Alcotest, results of standardized field sobriety tests, or through their own “lay” observations of intoxication. If the girlfriend simply walked into the police station in DC and began talking to police officers, it would be very difficult to prove the operation part of the charge since no police officer actually pulled her over or saw her in physical control of the vehicle. After all, she could have been driven to the police station by somebody else.
However, it is probably the case that she admitted to officers that she drove to the station, something that would help prosecutors establish “operation” of the vehicle. The article also confirms that she admitted to drinking earlier in the day. This case is a classic example of why when it comes to interaction with police, silence is golden. That is not to say no one should ever speak to police but walking into a police station intoxicated and admitting to the officers you drove to get there is definitely not something we’d advise at Scrofano Law PC.
When dealing with police officers, often less is more. Asserting your right to silence and your right to an attorney can help a practiced criminal lawyer make a case on your behalf. Scrofano Law PC offers the knowledge and skill of an experienced DUI attorney who will passionately fight for your rights in situations just like these.