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Ask a DUI Lawyer: How Do I Answer Questions from the Police?

Posted by Jason Beahm | May 30, 2014 | 0 Comments

I'm here to help people out of difficult situations. But you can help me help you, if you avoid common pitfalls that I see every day.

One of the most frustrating examples is when my DUI clients make a bad situation worse with what I call a “lying admission.” It's a double whammy. The better play, as usual, is to keep your mouth shut and ask for a DUI Attorney.

I understand where you are coming from. You think that by offering some kind of partial truth you will make the situation better for yourself.

In reality, you are making the situation worse. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. Unfortunately, it is such a rare occasion when one of our clients recognizes this. Instead, in a DUI case, it most often plays out like this:

Police Officer: “Have you had anything to drink tonight?”

Suspect: “Well, just a couple of drinks, but it was several hours ago.”

This answer sucks for a number of reasons. First, you just admitted to drinking, which practically speaking, means that the police officer now has probable cause to arrest you, regardless of how the rest of the traffic stop and sobriety tests transpire. You can count on that being in the police report!

Second, usually, the statement you have provided isn't true either. You had more than a couple drinks. So what did you gain by telling the police officer that you had been drinking, but only a little bit? Cops get agitated when you lie to them. Typically, you've had more than a couple of drinks, and at least a few of them were consumed just a few hours ago. So you have both admitted to drinking, and the officer knows that you are lying about how much you have had to drink. This is not an intelligent strategy. You don't have to be talking to them at all. Every word that is coming out of your mouth is making the situation worse. 

I'm not trying to beat you up. I know what you are thinking: “it's best to give a semi-honest answer…the cop is likely going to smell the alcohol on my breath. So if I admit to drinking just a little, maybe he will appreciate my candor and let me go.” I can see the logic. But it almost never plays out that way.

On the contrary, the police will say that you made an admission of drinking and driving, and you that you lied about how much you had to drink. Doesn't seem like such a great response anymore does it? 

Remember, you have the right to remain silent. The best answer to these kinds of questions are: “I apologize officer, I know you are doing your job and I respect that. I would not like to answer any questions without my attorney. Here is my license, registration and proof of insurance for your review. Am I free to leave?”

Is he likely to be pleased with this response? Nope. He may try to engage you in a series of further questions, which you do not have to answer. He may ask you to take a portable breath test, which you do not have to do. Answering questions makes the situation worse. Your job at the moment is not to please to officer, but to minimize the evidence they can gather against you. From the moment you were stopped, you were in a tough spot, no doubt about that…but silence sure beats admitting to drinking and lying to the police officer. That certainly isn't going to help your case. Just stop talking. Let the cops do their work, and contact your attorney. They are likely still going to arrest you, but you will have left me with a case that is much more defensible than the majority of my cases where my clients talk and talk and talk. You don't have to do that. It's really not the time for conversation!

DUI cases are different than most legal situations. You don't accidentally steal someone's car, but many people honestly believe they are under the legal limit when they are not. At 0.07% BAC you are an upstanding member of society that enjoyed a drink or two and drove home–fully within your rights as a law abiding citizen. Add one decimal point, perhaps two more sips of beers, and BOOM–you cross the line to 0.08% BAC and now you're arrested as a criminal under suspicion of committing a misdemeanor or even a felony. It's a fascinating aspect of DUI law. Whereas most people that commit offenses do them with intent, most people that commit DUIs believe that they are legal to drive, and they have no way of knowing.

The truth is, if you drive with a BAC over the legal limit of 0.08 in California and you are stopped as part of a valid traffic stop, you are going to be in a tough position. You will need a DUI Lawyer to help you, and it is going to be a challenging and perhaps frightening experience. So obviously the best move is don't drink and drive.

If all else fails, just remember: “I politely decline to answer any questions and I would like to speak with my DUI Lawyer.”

Then call us. We can help.

About the Author

Jason Beahm

Founding Attorney Profile Credentials Associations Bio Jason Beahm is the Founder and President of Beahm Law. Voted “Best of SF” four out of the past five years by SF Weekly Magazine, Attorney Beahm practices in the areas of DUI, criminal defense, and personal injury. He is passionate ...


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