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Getting questioned by an officer for suspicion of DUI can be an incredibly nerve-wracking experience. It is only normal that you’d be nervous about speaking to the cops following a DUI stop, and most people immediately start to worry about how the statements they make during this stop will potentially affect their DUI case. Unfortunately, the truth is that whatever statements you make to the officer can and most likely will be used against you in court, and your statements could even mean the difference between getting arrested or being let go.
DUI Stops and Probable Cause
Under California law, an officer must first establish probable cause before they can ask you to submit to a blood alcohol test, and any statements that you make during the traffic stop could potentially provide the officer will all the evidence they need to establish a reasonable suspicion that you’re intoxicated and thus ask you to submit to alcohol screening.
Many DUI cases initially start out as a routine traffic stop. An officer must have a valid reason to pull you over in the first place, which generally means that they must witness you committing a traffic violation. However, no matter whether you’re pulled over for speeding, a broken taillight or expired license tags, the officer must first establish a reasonable suspicion of your intoxication before they can ask you to submit to a field sobriety test. This is also true in situations where you’re stopped at a police checkpoint.
If in the process of pulling you over, the officer suspects that you have been drinking, they will typically ask you whether you’ve been drinking. If you smell strongly of alcohol and you were driving erratically or exhibit other visible signs of intoxication, this is usually enough evidence to establish probable cause. In this case, the officer already has a reasonable suspicion to suspect that you’re intoxicated and can then require you to submit to alcohol screening.
However, if you are pulled over for a routine traffic stop and don’t exhibit any visible signs of intoxication, the officer can still ask you whether you’ve been drinking. In this situation, any statements that you make could potentially provide the officer with the evidence they need to suspect you of DUI. For instance, let’s say that you’re pulled over for speeding and the officer suspects you have been drinking even though you don’t show any visible signs or smell like alcohol. If you admit to having even a beer or two, this often gives the officer all the evidence they need to begin investigating you for DUI.
When you willingly provide an admission that you’ve been drinking—even if you state that you only had one or two drinks—this automatically establishes the reasonable suspicion needed for the officer to proceed with their DUI investigation. On the other hand, if you refuse to answer the officer’s questions and show no visible signs of intoxication, the officer will eventually be forced to let you go due to a lack of evidence to support their suspicion of intoxication.
The Fifth Amendment and Your Right to Remain Silent
The Fifth Amendment gives you the right to remain silent in the face of any questions or interrogation in order to avoid self-incrimination. What most people don’t understand is that this fifth-amendment right extends to any situation where you speak to the police, including a DUI stop. This means that you are under no obligation to answer an officer if they question you about drinking.
This is essential to remember since any admission of drinking will provide the officer with the evidence they need to further investigate you for a DUI and allow them to require you to submit to a blood alcohol test. No matter what you are originally pulled over for, if you don’t exhibit any visible signs of intoxication, an officer cannot require you to submit to alcohol screening unless you make a statement admitting that you’ve been drinking. In this case, exercising your right to remain silent could mean the difference between being let go and being arrested on suspicion of DUI. Furthermore, any admission statements you make will only serve to strengthen the prosecution’s case and make it more likely that you’ll eventually be convicted.
Any admissions you make during a DUI stop can have a huge impact on your case. By refusing to answer the officer’s questions, you will make it much harder for the prosecution to prove your guilt. Of course, if you’ve already been arrested for DUI, it is essential that you speak with an experienced Los Angeles DUI attorney to examine the evidence against you and determine the best way to proceed with your defense.