You just came from a nice dinner with some friends, and you had a couple of drinks over the course of the meal – but you’re far from drunk. That didn’t stop your heart from sinking, however, when you saw those blue and red lights from a patrol car behind you.
Whatever you do, get ready: The officer is almost certainly going to ask, “Have you been drinking?” (They may try to lead in with a slightly more subtle question, like, “Where are you coming from?” to elicit the fact that you’ve been at a bar or a restaurant where alcohol is served. You should consider that just a lead-in to the more obvious question.)
Here’s why you don’t want to answer the question
An officer only needs “reasonable suspicion” for a traffic stop, which means that any possible mistake on the road (driving too slowly, turning too wide, not having your headlights on when dusk hits or having an obscured tag on your car) is enough justification.
To arrest you on a criminal charge, however, they need to have “probable cause” to believe that you’re breaking the law. In the case of a drunk driving charge, admitting that you’ve been drinking gives them enough justification to dig deeper into your sobriety. They can demand a breath test to measure your blood alcohol concentration (BAC), and that could, ultimately, lead to your arrest.
Since their question is designed to give them probable cause to see if you’re intoxicated, your answer should be designed to avoid just that. It’s tricky, however, because you can’t lie to a police officer (since that’s also a crime).
Your best option, then, is to deflect the question by asking one of your own, such as, “I’m sorry officer. Why did you pull me over?” If that doesn’t redirect the question back to the reason for the traffic stop, you can simply say, “I’d prefer not to discuss anything outside of the traffic stop without my attorney present.”
That may or may not stop the officer from pursuing their suspicions, but it does preserve your right against self-incrimination. A good defense to a drunk driving charge starts by understanding your rights.