That Time I Was Pulled Over
The last time I was pulled over was in 2007 for expired tabs. It was annoying. I paid the ticket.
The second to last time I was pulled over was in 2004 and that one was more interesting.
It was fairly late at night, around 11:00 pm. In the car I was driving was my girlfriend (now wife), and two of our other friends who were in town visiting Seattle. We had visited a bar around 7:30, then checked out some of Seattle’s nightlife. At the bar I had a beer.
I was pulled at 11:00 because I had made an illegal left turn at a strangely laid-out intersection (Seattle has a lot of these). After I made my left I saw the trademark flashing lights in my rear-view mirror. I pulled over.Officer: “Do you know why I pulled you over?” Me: “I do not.” Officer: “You made an illegal left turn back there. It’s a weird intersection, a lot of people make that mistake.” Me: “Oh, sorry.” Officer: “Have you been drinking tonight?” Me: “Yes I had one beer earlier tonight.” Officer: “Would you mind blowing into my portable breath test machine?” Me: “Sure.” Officer (checks readout): “Ok looks like you’re fine. Thanks for being honest with me. I’m not going to write you a ticket. Have a nice night.” Me: “Thanks!”
With the benefit of hindsight, I can say my actions that night were very risky. Not drinking, I was clearly not over the limit over appreciably affected by alcohol. But telling the officer I had been drinking exposed me to all sorts of trouble. The officer was perfectly within his rights to ask, and I was perfectly within my rights to decline to answer.
“But Noah,” you might say. “It worked out great! No ticket, no arrest, and you got a blog post out of it!“
That’s totally true, it worked out fine. Had I declined to answer the officer’s questions he may have written me a ticket for being obstinate. He may have said I had bloodshot, watery eyes and obviously smelled like alcohol, and arrested me for DUI. Who knows?
But I know with certainty that if that officer heard me admit I had been drinking, I know he could have arrested me for DUI on the spot. And I know that would have made my life much more stressful. And my admissions would be used against me in that court case. I know it would have made my criminal defense attorney’s job harder.
We lawyers deal in percentages, not guarantees. And the fact is, admitting to the police you’ve been drinking is a bad percentage play. I got lucky and maybe you or a friend has a similar story where they had a nice roadside conversation with the cops and were sent on their merry way. It certainly happens.
But don’t count on it. For every anecdote about someone being let out with a warning, there are dozens of people who told their side of things and dug themselves a bigger hole.
What would I do now if I were in the same situation? “I’m sorry officer I’m not going to answer any questions.” Maybe that means I get a ticket where I otherwise wouldn’t. Those are the breaks. But you don’t go to jail for making an illegal left turn. DUI is another story. Don’t be fooled by the lucky breaks. The percentage play is always to keep your mouth shut when talking to police.
If you or someone you know was arrested after a poor interaction with a police officer, feel free to give me a call.