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What to say when an officer asks, “Have you been drinking?”


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You’re heading home from work after a brief pit stop at your favorite bar with a couple of work friends — and you get pulled over. You’ve had a beer or two over a couple of hours, but you know that you’re definitely not intoxicated.

So, how do you handle the situation when the officer steps up to the window of your vehicle and casually asks, “Have you been drinking tonight?”

You can’t lie, but you can decline to answer

If you admit that you’ve been drinking, you’re pretty sure that you’re going to be subjected to a Breathalyzer test, and you’re afraid that will turn into an arrest (justified or not) for drunk driving.

Just the same, you can’t lie. Lying to a police officer can be considered obstruction of justice, and that comes with a whole different set of serious charges in addition to any you may face for drunk driving.

You can, however, refuse to answer the question. For starters, try side-stepping the issue by asking a direct question of your own — something like, “Excuse me, can you tell me why you pulled me over?” If you’re lucky the officer will get down to business and explain what traffic infraction or other issue gave rise to the stop.

If you’re not so lucky, the officer may repeat the question. At that point, you may have to assert your Fourth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Don’t offer excuses or explanations. Instead, simply say something like, “I’d prefer not to discuss that. Do you need my license and registration?”

Why is this important to remember?

A lot of traffic stops are pretexts for an officer to see if they have spotted a drunk driver. You don’t want to give them any ammunition that would justify further intrusion on your privacy.

If you do end up with a drunk driving charge after a traffic stop, don’t let it ruin your future. Learn about the options you have to protect your interests.

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