This year, New England has received its fair share of snow. Every now and then, I will encounter a client who was found by a police officer with their car stuck in the snow or off the road from hitting an ice patch. These people are often already outside their car, pushing their car, shoveling, or otherwise trying to get the car out of the snow. Of those people, the ones who have had a few drinks often start to wonder, “Can I get charged with OUI?” even though they were not operating their car at the time of the stop.
Consider a former client’s scenario in which she had attended a gathering with friends where she had enjoyed a few drinks. Driving home on icy roads ended prematurely with her car stuck in a snowbank. She was outside the car attempting to dig it out, unfortunately without much success. When the police arrived, the client admitted to driving the car before it hit the snowbank. The police also observed the scent of intoxicants as well as other clues of alcohol consumption. Because the police consider a motor vehicle off of the road, (such as hitting a snow-bank after sliding on ice) as a sign of operational impairment, the fact that my client’s vehicle was in a snow bank, in addition to other observations, were used by the police to form suspicion that my client was OUI. As a result, the stop progressed to standardized field sobriety tests and an alcohol breath test. Ultimately, my client was charged with OUI, but we nonetheless achieved a great result for her.
The answer to the question (“Can I get charged with OUI, even though I was not operating my car at the time of the stop”) is yes, you can get charged with OUI, even if you were not operating your car at the time of the stop. At the same time, the officer cannot charge you with OUI just because your car is stuck in a snowbank. The officer needs to observe other potential signs of impairment on you, and the police officer still needs the requisite probable cause before taking you down to the station for an alcohol breath test. People get stuck in snowbanks frequently without impairment being a factor.
Admitting to Driving Can Result in an OUI Charge
Often, the officer will find out that you were driving your car before it got stuck in a snowbank because you admitted to the officer that you were the one in the driver’s seat. This admission, while seemingly small, can make a big difference.
So what are you supposed to do to protect yourself? While some might think that it is a good idea to claim that someone else drove the car into the snowbank, this is a non-starter for police. Officers tend to know when you are lying to them, and lying to police is a quick way to get into a lot more trouble. Instead, you can simply and respectfully exercise your right to remain silent. This simply means informing the officer that you are not agreeing to answer any questions.
If you or someone you know is charged with OUI in Maine, I encourage you to contact The Nielsen Group for your free legal consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney. We will take the time to answer your questions and to put your mind at ease as we work with you to determine a defense strategy.
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If you would like to call us now at (207) 571-8555, we can begin to develop your case strategy.
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