Have you ever had a drink of alcohol and then gotten behind the wheel of a car to drive home? Most people have done so many times but would not consider it to be criminal driving under the influence (DUI). Florida’s criminal law only prohibits driving when your blood or breath alcohol content measures .08 or higher or when alcohol or another chemical substance impairs your normal faculties.
So, if you only had a drink or two, is it safe to tell the police officer who pulls you over that you only had a couple of drinks?
At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law in Tampa, we hear this question from many people who want to know what to say when they get stopped by police. As experienced DUI defense lawyers, we can tell you the worst thing you can do is incriminate yourself. In this blog post, we hope you learn the best practices for drivers who have had a drink or two when pulled over at a traffic stop.
How to Answer the “Have You Been Drinking?” Question
Everyone who is stopped by the police feels some anxiety. Even if you are completely innocent of any wrongdoing, your nervousness could result from not knowing why you were stopped. Some of your behavior can make the officer nervous too. Let’s do what we can to make the officer relax:
- Pull over and turn off your engine. Take the keys and place them on the dashboard. (This immediately indicates you are safe to approach. Remember, police don’t know what to expect.)
- Keep your hands on the wheel where they can be seen.
- Do not reach in your glove compartment for your paperwork until the officer asks you to do so.
- You can greet the officer if you want to or wait for them to give you directions.
If the officer already suspects you of DUI, they may as the magic question right away. If they stopped you for another reason, they may smell alcohol and then ask you, “Have you been drinking today?”
Answers to Choose From:
- If you had nothing to drink, you can say “No.”
- If you had one or two drinks (or more):
-If you say, “Yes,” you just gave the officer evidence they will use to justify asking you to take several standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs). You may think you will pass the field sobriety tests with flying colors, but the officer may disagree. They may think you failed. Then you will be arrested and transported to the police station for a breathalyzer test. If you pass the breathalyzer, then you went through this humiliating, frightening, inconvenience for nothing. If you fail, then your admission to drinking will strengthen the prosecution’s case against you.
-If you say, “No,” you’d be lying. If the officer smells alcohol, thinks you are slurring your speech, or thinks you seem confused; they will conclude you are lying about not drinking and ask you to take several SFSTs anyway. (See A. above).
-If you say, “I don’t think I will answer any questions, officer,” then you are acting within your legal rights. But what will happen?
- You will feel nervous that you are refusing to cooperate. Adrenaline may pump through your veins. Stay calm.
- The officer may still think you are drunk, but they will not have your admission to use against you in the reports or court.
- The officer now must base any decision to have you perform SFSTs on something other than your own admission that you’ve been drinking.
- To justify your arrest, the officer probably needs more than merely smelling alcohol on your breath. They will ask you to take the SFSTs anyway.
NOTE: You Have No Legal Obligation to Take Any Field Sobriety Tests.
Field Sobriety Tests are not mandatory. You are free to take them or decline to take them. The officer may try to talk you into taking the SFSTs, but the tests are generally not in the driver’s legal interests. Again, politely declining the officer’s invitation is your right.
Protect Your Legal Interests in DUI Stops
You have nothing to gain by telling a police officer who stops you that you have been drinking. You also have nothing to gain by lying to the officer. Whether the officer asks you to take field sobriety tests has almost nothing to do with your answer. Either admitting or lying about drinking will not serve you well at all. You will probably be making your situation worse by choosing either of those options.
Deciding to politely inform the officer that you’d rather not answer any questions (and then being quiet) will not help the officer but it won’t harm you either. The officer might well be annoyed or irritated, but they won’t have useful evidence to justify your arrest.
Fight Your Case in Court, Not Out on the Road
If you disagree with the officer who pulled you over, or if the officer is rude to you, don’t argue with them or respond with rudeness yourself. If possible, be quiet, be polite, and be strong.
Fighting your case is our job! The Stechschulte Nell Law Office has many years of experience fighting DUI and Refusal charges in the Tampa – St. Petersburg area. The courtroom is where DUI cases are won, not in the street. Representing people accused of DUI involves studying the statutes and the caselaw very carefully and keeping up to date with the recent developments in DUI defense around the country.
Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time during a DUI stop can make your defense much more challenging. But whatever the circumstances of your case are, you need lawyers who understand all of the facts the prosecution must prove for a conviction. In Florida, records of DUI convictions cannot be expunged or sealed, and they can damage your reputation permanently.
Defending Tampa Bay DUI Charges
We hope you don’t drink and drive, especially if you know you are impaired. But if you do make that mistake, let Stechschulte Nell defend your DUI to maximize your chances of winning.
We specialize in providing strong, aggressive, successful legal defenses to drivers charged with DUI in the Tampa-St. Pete area. If you are facing DUI charges in the Tampa area, call our office for more individual information about your case. We can help.
Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, your Tampa — St. Pete DUI Defense Lawyers. Call us at 813-280-1244 today.