When it comes to a possible drunk driving situation, a police officer is not your friend. Even if you happen to know the officer socially, if they suspect that you’re driving under the influence of alcohol, rest assured they are unlikely to “cut you a break.” This is why you need to be especially careful when speaking with an officer you know, as anything you say can–and will–be used against you.
Marshall V. State
A DWI Case Up in Texarkana
A recent DWI case from Texarkana, Marshall v. State, offers a cautionary tale.
In this case, the defendant was driving his motorcycle one day and came upon a Texas Department of Public Safety roadblock at the scene of an accident. An off-duty DPS trooper happened to be at the roadblock as well and pulled up next to the defendant, whom he described as a “golfing buddy.”
The two men started chatting.
The trooper said he immediately suspected something was off with the defendant. The trooper later described the defendant as “obviously” intoxicated based on the “look on his face and eyes,” as well as his “very slurred” speech.
Based on these observations, the off-duty trooper summoned his colleagues who were working the roadblock.
The trooper told another officer that he had known the defendant a long time and that he had a “reputation for driving while he was intoxicated.” The on-duty officer then decided to detain the defendant, which eventually led to the defendant’s arrest on charges of committing a second-offense DWI.
DWI Charges & an Arrest Occur
The defendant agreed to plead guilty and received a 180-day jail sentence, which was suspended in favor of 12 months of probation.
The defendant reserved his right to appeal, however, specifically on the question of whether the police had “reasonable suspicion” to detain him in the first place. Both the trial judge, and later the Texas Sixth District Court of Appeals, held that reasonable suspicion existed and the detention was permissible.
The Court of Appeals noted that even though the defendant’s “golfing buddy” was off-duty at the time, he was still considered a “cooperating officer.”
This meant the trooper’s observations could form the “reasonable suspicion” necessary to justify a detention by the on-duty officers present. Here, those observations were that the defendant was probably intoxicated. And in a footnote to its opinion, the Sixth District Court of Appeals noted that although the off-duty trooper had significant prior experience in identifying drunk drivers, even a “lay witness may give an opinion as to intoxication.”
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Although officers must have “probable cause” to make an arrest, they only need to meet the lower standard of “reasonable suspicion” to detain you and conduct a further investigation. And as the case above illustrates, anything you say or do in front of an officer–even one who is off-duty and considers you a friend–can be enough to create that suspicion. This is why your best bet when dealing with any police officer on the highway is to say as little as possible.
Mr. Tad Nelson is Board Certified® in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization™, an ACS/CHAL Lawyer-Scientist, and holds a plethora of other educational certificates and accolades that are all dedicated to making the best DWI lawyers even better.