Interviewer: If I am pulled over and the officer starts asking questions, obviously, they’re looking at your appearance, but what are some of the questions they are going to ask you other than the license and registration?
Michael: They’ll ask you for the license and registration. They’ll ask, “Where are you coming from this evening? Where are you going? Did you have anything to drink?” Those are the three magic questions.
If one of those answers contained, “I’m coming from a bar or a club, or someplace else,” and then you say, “Yes. I’ve been drinking tonight.” They are almost always going to extend the stop and continue the investigation, and will do that by asking you to step out of the vehicle.
Interviewer: If I am pulled over and I say to the officer, “Officer, I am not going to answer any of these questions without my attorney present,” or “I don’t feel comfortable answering that,” will they pressure you?Will they push with this? What would be the circumstances in a case like that?
Do Not be Afraid of the Pressure
Michael: Officers will exert some pressure on you to answer the question. They may even ask, “Why aren’t you answering my question?” You are not obligated to answer the officer’s question.
You can tell the officer that and say, “Officer, I’ve provided you with my identifying information. I am not obligated to answer any further questions. I do not wish to answer any further questions without speaking to an attorney.” That’s all you need to say.
Now, that makes a lot of people nervous. Especially, if you’re someone where you know that you’ve had something to drink and the officer is asking questions, you don’t want to give answers to those questions. It’s only information that will be used against you.
The mistake that most people make, and again, I don’t like using the word “mistake,” because it’s sort of like a natural response for people. It’s not that they’re doing something wrong. I guess “misunderstanding” is a better word for it.
Cooperation is Not Always Your Friend
The misunderstanding people have is that, “Well, if I just cooperate and if I just answer the question, they’re going to let me go.” The fear that people have is the fear of being arrested. You’re probably not going to to be able to stop an arrest. If an officer thinks you’re under the influence for whatever reason, they’re going to place you under arrest no matter what.
By cooperating and answering all of their questions, they’re not just going to turn around and say, “Hey, thanks for being honest with me about how much you had to drink, and where you were coming from. I’m just going to let you go.”
They’re going to place you under arrest for DUI. Then, you are going to have to deal with all of that information being used against you in court. You can’t stop an arrest. The thing you want to try to stop is a conviction. You have to think down the road, and say, “Look. You want to arrest me, go ahead. I’m not going to give you any information at all.”
The Ideal Scenario for a DUI Stop
The ideal DUI scenario for me is somebody gets stopped for whatever reason. The officer asks questions. The driver says, “I decline to answer any questions.”
The officer says, “Step out of the vehicle. I’m going to perform a Field Sobriety Test.” The driver says, “I decline to participate in a Field Sobriety Test.”
The officer may pressure the driver and say, “Well, if you don’t answer my questions, and you don’t participate in a Field Sobriety Test, I’m going to place you under arrest.”
The driver says, “That’s your prerogative. Go ahead. Place me under arrest.” What you’re choosing between is being placed under arrest when they have more evidence to use against you in the form of statements you made, and Field Sobriety Test you did, or less evidence to be used against you since you did not give them anything.
If you haven’t given them anything, then they don’t have anything. Maybe you’ll be placed under arrest, and maybe you’ll be charged. By the time the case works its way through court, they’re not going to have a lot of evidence to use against you, to try to convict you beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
Interviewer: Your ideal situation if you’re representing a client is when they in fact do not participate in a Field Sobriety Test or answer questions?
Michael: Correct. In D.C., my ideal scenario is a client who declines to answer any questions, who declines to participate in a field sobriety test and who declines to submit to a breath test or any chemical testing.