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Can a Police Officer Question Me About Drunk Driving on a Drive-Thru Line?

Many Houston-area residents are still confused about their legal rights when confronted by police on suspicion of DWI and drunk driving. From a constitutional standpoint, the police must advise you of your rights to remain silent and speak with counsel before interrogating you in a “custodial” setting, such as after you are placed under arrest. The problem is that not all encounters with police are custodial. If a police officer simply walks up to you and starts a conversation without detaining you, anything that you voluntarily disclose may be used against you in court, even if the officer never advised you of your rights.

Court Holds Defendant’s Encounter with Officer Was “Consensual”

Of course, in the moment it’s not always clear when a police encounter is custodial or casual. Here is a recent example taken from a decision by the Texas First District Court of Appeals here in Houston. This case involves a drunk driving arrest that occurred following a police-citizen interaction at a Whataburger drive-thru line.

The officer received a 911 dispatch about an alleged “disturbance” between two people riding in a black pickup truck. The officer located a truck matching the description approximately one block from his location. The truck was waiting in line at the Whataburger.

The officer decided to pull into the drive-thru line. He did not activate his lights or siren. The officer exited his vehicle and tapped on the window of the pickup truck.

The driver–the defendant in this case–voluntarily opened his window. At this point the officer said he observed numerous “signs of intoxication,” including a small of alcohol and slurred speech on the part of the defendant. The defendant then volunteered “he had a few drinks before driving.” The officer then “conducted a DWI investigation,” which led to the defendant being charged, tried, and convicted of DWI.

On appeal to the First District, the defendant argued the police officer “unlawfully detained” him in the Whataburger line, and that his admission of intoxication was inadmissible in court. The First District disagreed. It held that under the circumstances, this was a “consensual encounter.” The officer’s decision to enter the drive-through line “was not objectively threatening,” as he “showed no force or authority.” Furthermore, the officer’s position did not “wholly limit” the defendant’s ability to exit the drive-through line. Accordingly, the appeals court found that a “reasonable person” in the defendant’s position “would have felt free to terminate the encounter.”

Speak with a Houston Drunk Driving Defense Attorney Today

Now, you might disagree with the First District’s assessment of how “reasonable” people act when a police officer taps on their window. But even if you decide to engage an officer in conversation under these circumstances, remember you do not have to volunteer any information that may be used against you. And if you are formally detained on suspicion of drunk driving, your first step should be to contact a qualified Houston DWI defense attorney. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you require immediate assistance at (713) 802-1631.