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What to Say When Police Ask if You’ve Been Drinking

Being pulled over by law enforcement can be a scary experience for any driver on California roads. If you’re pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI), there’s a good chance that the police officer will question you to assess any signs of impairment.

Given the pressure and urgency that most drivers are under when stopped by police, it’s understandable that many people get tongue-tied when responding to questions. While it’s normal to be nervous, it’s also imperative to understand that how you respond to questions from police can have a significant impact on the outcome of your criminal case.

Keep reading to learn how to respond to questions from police in a DUI stop to avoid self-incrimination, and safeguard your rights.

How to Interact with Police in a California Traffic Stop

As a licensed driver, understanding how to best respond to police questions in a traffic stop can mean the difference between going to jail and driving away as a free person. Common inquiries from law enforcement officials during DUI stops include:

  • Asking where you’re going;
  • Asking where you’re coming from; and
  • Asking if you’ve consumed alcohol recently.

The police officer may also test cognitive functioning and motor skills through a series of standardized field sobriety tests, such as the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), the walk-and-turn (WAT), and the one-leg stand (OLS).

How to Reply to “Have You Been Drinking?” in a DUI Stop

If the police officer asks you if you’ve been drinking, you can politely decline to answer their question. You are not required by law to answer any questions that could potentially incriminate you. If it makes you more comfortable, it’s perfectly fine to explain to the law enforcement official that your attorney has advised you to refrain from answering questions at this time until they can be present with you.

Keep in mind that declining to answer questions is not the same as lying. Drivers should avoid making false statements—especially regarding alcohol consumption, which can be easily disproven by a blood or breathalyzer test—at all costs. Lying to a police officer will inevitably land you in hot water and even result in enhanced criminal penalties in court.

6 Tips for Drivers in DUI Stops

A DUI stop can be a stressful ordeal. However, adhering to certain best practices can help maximize your chance of obtaining a favorable legal outcome. Consider these 6 tips to avoid self-incrimination and exercise your rights in a DUI stop:

  1. Demonstrate respect – Respecting law enforcement officials during traffic stops is a must if you wish to achieve a favorable result. It's important to refrain from showing signs of aggression or hostility, as this can lead officers to perceive their safety to be threatened and potentially incite them to take action by arresting you.
  2. Provide your license and registration when asked – Keep your hands where the officer can see them until they specifically request that you provide your license, registration, or other documents. Drivers should take care to keep movements calm and controlled throughout the interaction. Fumbling movements or resisting the officer’s request can be construed as signs of intoxication.
  3. Ask if you’re free to leave – After providing the requested documentation, the best way to determine your next steps is to simply ask whether you're free to leave. Many drivers mistakenly assume they’re being detained when they’re not, as police can imply otherwise through facial cues, body language, and misleading questions or statements. Politely asking if you’re free to go can confirm whether or not the officer has probable cause to charge you with a crime.
  4. Decline field sobriety tests (FSTs) if necessary – If the officer requests that you undergo field sobriety tests, you’re legally allowed to decline. It’s crucial for drivers to understand their rights to make informed decisions when these situations arise.
  5. Request to have a lawyer present before consenting to questioning – If police continue to question you or push you for information, you’re legally permitted to decline to answer until you have a lawyer present.

It’s imperative to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer to avoid life-changing penalties in criminal court. A trusted legal representative can fight fiercely to restore your freedom, protect your rights, and fortify your case with relevant evidence to reduce or eliminate the charges against you.

Over 10 Years of Experience Defending the Accused in CA

As the Bay Area’s top criminal defense law firm, the Law Office of Nabiel C. Ahmed understands how terrifying it is to get charged with a criminal offense. From weapons violations to vehicular offenses, being accused of breaking the law in California can lead to serious consequences if convicted—even for those who believe themselves to be innocent or undeserving of punishment.

Attorney Ahmed is a nationally-renowned legal advocate with an unparalleled track record of success. With thousands of criminal cases handled throughout the Bay Area, you can trust our firm to prioritize your needs while keeping your best interests at heart. When your future and freedom are at stake, don’t settle for less than the impenetrable legal defense you deserve.

Turn to the Bay Area’s top criminal defense attorney for the strong defense you deserve. Call (510) 907-6600 to schedule a free consultation.