Interviewer: Let’s go through the process from the moment someone is stopped, and the police come up to the car. What’s the normal sequence of events that start to unfold?
Brian Sloan: When the police come to the car, what they normally first do is ask for the driver’s license, registration and insurance. Usually, when someone is pulled over, it’s not always because someone is suspected of driving under the influence.
When the officer comes to the door, he or she should not start the DUI investigation right away. Normally, the reason why an officer comes to someone’s door is because they saw that there was a cracked windshield, a headlight out or a license plate light out. That is not indicative of someone who’s driving under the influence.
The officer, even though it might be 2:30 AM in the morning, may think that someone out that early in the morning is probably driving under the influence; however, their reason for stopping you has to be limited solely to the issue that they saw and the reasonable suspicion that they had.
An officer will come to the car door. They should ask for your license, registration and insurance. They will very likely be taking notice if you have bloodshot watery eyes, if there’s an odor of alcohol, if you have a slur to your speech, if your face is flushed – those types of signs and symptoms that might be consistent with alcohol consumption.
The Police Look for Reasonable Suspicion That You Are Intoxicated
Interviewer: Even though it may not seem to you, as the person being pulled over, that they’re going to investigate you for DUI, the police are looking at it with an eye towards moving it that way?
Brian Sloan: Yes. Especially the time of night or the early morning hours, officers know that if someone is out late at night, especially on a Friday or Saturday night, in the early morning hours, chances are that person was at a bar. Chances are, the person on the road is driving drunk.
They will find any reason to pull someone over. They think that you’re drunk, but they don’t know it. Often, they have to come up with some other reason to pull you over and it’s usually something trivial. “Y-turning” is a popular infraction to cite. Speeding is a popular infraction to cite, something that everyday people do, whether they’re drunk or sober, but it serves as an excuse to pull someone over.
What the Police Will Do If They Suspect You Are Intoxicated
Interviewer: What kind of questions will tell someone that this is turning into a DUI investigation? What kind of line of questioning will the police come up with, normally?
Brian Sloan: Usually, at the time that they ask for the license, registration and insurance, they ask the person, “Have you been drinking anything tonight?” or “When’s the last time you smoked marijuana?” Very quickly, the line of questioning goes from, “Hey, I was pulled over because I forgot to turn my headlights on,” to, “Wait a minute, why are you asking me questions about drinking?”
What you say is crucial in a way, because if you answer that you did smoke marijuana, you did use drugs, you did take prescription medications or you did consume alcohol–those answers are going to launch the officer into a DUI investigation
How Should You Respond to the Police Questioning?
Lying isn’t necessarily the right answer either. You don’t want to tell the officer something that he can obviously tell is taking place. If you say that you have not consumed alcohol, that you’re the only person in your vehicle and your vehicle smells of alcohol, the officer is going to think that your lying and, if this goes any further, you are going to be painted as a liar.
If it goes to trial, you’ll be seen as someone who is not honest because you said that you did not consume alcohol when, obviously, you smelled of alcohol. The best advice, really, is to stay silent or tell the officer that you prefer not to answer that question or that you don’t feel that question is appropriate or you are not going to dignify that question with an answer.
Your Right to Remain Silent: The Best Response Is No Response
That is really the only safe area to go into because you’re either going to tell the truth, and many people do, but it hurts them or, you’re going to lie, which also hurts you. You have a constitutional right to remain silent, utilize it.
Interviewer: If you said, “Officer, I’m not going to answer any questions without an attorney present,” or “I don’t feel comfortable answering that,” what’s going to be his or her normal response to you? Will they pressure you? What will happen?
Brian Sloan: It’s fine. You do have a constitutional right to remain silent. The interesting thing is, technically, you don’t have a constitutional right to an attorney until you’ve been arrested. I’ve had a client that, numerous times before being arrested, he kept asking for an attorney but the officer was correct in telling him that, “You haven’t been arrested yet. You don’t have a right to an attorney yet.”
While you can say to the officer that you don’t want to answer his questions, you want to talk to an attorney, you’re not going to incriminate yourself, or you want to remain silent, it may upset the officer. The officer may decide to arrest you but you’ve protected yourself in the future from, hopefully, ever getting charged.
If they don’t have the evidence to use against you, if you stay quiet and you refuse to do their field sobriety tests, that’s a lot less evidence that they have to use against you at trial. The prosecutors may just decide not to bring a case.