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October 17, 2013

About the Law: Watch your words

After stopping me for drunken driving, police questioned me. I made statements about where I had been and what I had done that day and, in attempting to cooperate, I pretty much admitted things that are going to croak me in court. Can a person be questioned by the police while intoxicated?

Boiling volumes of constitutional law down to two sentences, Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination only apply in circumstances of custodial interrogation. If police had probable cause to stop your vehicle, and this is a low threshold satisfied with even a failure to use turn signals, then investigatory questions prior to the actual arrest are fair game. It happens all the time in DWI stops.

However, you should retain an attorney familiar with this area of the law. Under some circumstances, you might bring a motion to suppress, although this can be an uphill battle. Also, depending on the extent of intoxication or the cause of impairment, the veracity and accuracy of the purported statements can be challenged before a jury or judge at trial. This answer should in no way be taken as excusing DWI. But if you’re in a spot, the Constitution provides specified rights that can only be properly exercised by an attorney versed in that area of law.

My company fired me because a coworker and I had major disagreements. They say I keyed the coworker’s car out in the parking lot, which I deny. There is a security videotape showing me walking by the vehicle during a break. However, the video does not show me contacting or damaging the vehicle. Can they fire me for this or file criminal charges?

Not a pretty picture here, but let’s see.

As I’ve written before, we’re all employees at will and, unless there’s a contract of employment or a union, we can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. The only exceptions to that general rule are if there is a “hostile work environment,” if the employee proves that they were fired because they were a member of a suspect class or if the employer otherwise violated public policy. Unless there are additional facts, the firing is likely to stand.

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