Example of How Communication Can Get Misinterpreted During a Stop

Interviewer: How are some ways that some things that a police officer says get miscommunicated and at the same time, how do these get misinterpreted by the driver?

Jerald Novak: That’s a great question. I’ll give you a great example of that. I had a client that was driving home. He just came from a birthday celebration with his wife and his in-laws. He had two glasses of wine with dinner. He was driving down the street. He was pulled over by a police officer for improper lane use. The conduct that the police officer was stopping him for was that my client’s vehicle allegedly was driving in the correct lane of traffic, never broke the solid line on the passenger side of the car and never broke the dash line on the left side, but that my client was weaving within his lane.

He illuminated the emergency lighting. My client pulled over right away. The officer gets out of the car. He approaches my client’s vehicle. He asked him for his license and insurance card which he had no difficulty producing. Then he said, “Where are you going?” He said, “I’m going home.” He did a series of field sobriety tests, and arrested him for DUI.

When we got the police report, the police officer had recorded that he had asked my client where he was going, and that my client had indicated he was going home. He also followed up in the report that obviously that my client was confused and intoxicated because his home was in the opposite direction, and that my client was going in the wrong direction which was indicia of impairment and intoxication.

Now, I asked my client about that. I said, “Did he ask you where you’re going?” He said, “Yes, he did.” I said, “What did you say?” He said, “I was going home.” I said, “Well, how come you’re going in the wrong direction.” He said, “Well, I was going two blocks on the other direction to go 7/11 to get a gallon of milk, and then I was going to turn around and go home. He asked me where I was going. I was going home.”

The proper question for the police officer to have asked him is, “What is your itinerary?” He told him the truth. It’s also his goal or an ultimate destination was home. He didn’t lie. He wasn’t confused. There was no mix up. He knows exactly where he was going. Instead of saying to the driver at that point, “Sir, your home is in the other direction and you’re going in the opposite direction, how is it that you’re going home?” My client would have said, “Oh, because I’m going to White Hen to pick up a gallon of milk at the 7/11, to pick up a gallon of milk before I go home, but my ultimate destination is my home.”

Because the police officer never followed up with another question and followed this to the driver’s attention, it got misperceived by both my client who answered an innocent question and was completely misunderstood by the police officer who jumped to the conclusion that my client was impaired, or confused, or lost.

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