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Part Two: I Am Getting Pulled Over, What Do I Do?

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pulled over

How Much Have You Had to Drink?

One of the most common misconceptions that ordinary citizens have about police officers is that they are somehow duty-bound to be honest and straightforward with you during your interaction. I have often had clients arrested based on the work of an undercover officer who come to my office in bewilderment demanding to know why the officer was able to lie to them, even when asked directly if he or she was working in an undercover capacity.

I have worked with many police officers during the course of my practice and can say without a doubt that the vast majority of them are honest, hard-working men and women who put their lives on the line every day to make your community safer. We are taught (rightfully so in most cases) to trust law enforcement from the time we are young children, and as a result some of us have a tendency to confide in the officer too much when placed in a precarious situation such as being pulled over for a DUI. Loose lips sink ships, as the saying goes, and getting too chatty on a traffic stop because you fail to recognize that the officer is not your friend and is not going to let you go after you admit to drinking may very well turn an ordinary traffic stop into a DUI arrest and trip to the slammer...

NEVER Admit that You Have Been Drinking

The hands-down most common mistake that East Tennesseans make when pulled over on suspicion of DUI is admitting that they have been drinking. When any police officer suspects you are driving under the influence, they will walk up to your car, give you some reason for pulling you over, and immediately ask you "How much have you had to drink?" At some point in our history, some great American decided that the perfect answer to give in this situation was "two beers." Since the creation of the "two beers" response strategy, I would dare say that response has been given in at least ninety percent of DUI-related traffic stops. I have had clients who haven't had a drop to drink who have told the officers they have had two beers, and I have had clients who have pulled over and parked completely on a sidewalk with a six-pack and a cat in their lap who have told the officer they have had two beers. I believe this response comes from two common misconceptions about DUIs in Tennessee: that the officer already knows you have been drinking, and that you cannot be convicted of DUI if you have only had a couple of beers.

The Officer Knows Almost Nothing at the Time the Stop is Initiated

We have a tendency to panic whenever a traffic stop is initiated, as though the officer will now be able to stare into our souls and will know any wrong we have ever committed. Because of this, many drivers incriminate themselves when asked if they have been drinking, in essence performing the officer's job for them. It is important to keep in mind that the officer has no idea if you have been drinking when the traffic stop is initiated, and they might never know that unless you tell them. All the officer knows when the blue lights come on is that you have committed some traffic offense which gave them reasonable suspicion to pull you over. It is very likely that they have no idea who you are, where you have been, where you are going, or what you have had to eat or drink that night. It is also very likely that the officer knows that the Constitution forbids them from extending the stop for any reason past addressing that initial traffic violation unless they have probable cause to do so. If you adopt the age-old "two beers" strategy, you are foregoing all of your Constitutional protections and giving that officer probable cause to ask you to submit to field sobriety tests, give a blood or breath sample, and most likely charge you with DUI. Even if you smell like a brewery or hit six cars in the parking lot at the grocery store, tell that officer you have had absolutely nothing to drink every single time you are asked. Make them discover a reason to extend your stop and charge you with DUI rather than just blurting something out because you thought they already knew you were drinking. The officer may act like she knows you have been drinking, but she does not. The officer may act like she is your friend and wants to let you go, but she does not. And the truth is, Tennessee law really wouldn't allow that officer to let you go once you admit to drinking, even if they wanted to, because...

You Do Not Have to be Over the "Legal Limit" to be Guilty of DUI in Tennessee\

Another reason the "two beers" theory is so popular is because many Tennessee drivers mistakenly believe you are only guilty of DUI if you have drank enough to bring your blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) is over 0.08% or more, commonly referred to as the "legal limit." Thus, they think that if the tell the officer they have only had two beers they could never have a BAC over the legal limit, and the officer will appreciate their candor and potentially let them go. This is a huge mistake. Tennessee is a DUI state, not a DWI state, which means that the State will not have to prove you were driving while intoxicated to convict you but rather will only have to prove that you were driving "under the influence of alcohol." In essence, you can be convicted of DUI in Tennessee for having even one sip of alcohol if the judge or jury believes that sip impacted your ability to operate your vehicle safety. The "legal limit" in Tennessee is therefore not a "legal limit" that protects drivers at all, because there is no amount of alcohol that is legal to have in one's system if it affects your ability to operate a motor vehicle. All the "legal limit" really does is create a presumption against you that if your BAC is over 0.08% you are most likely driving while impaired and shifts the burden on to you to prove that you weren't. It is for this reason, primarily that you never want to admit that you have had even one sip of alcohol, especially not "two beers." Once an officer hears that you have had two beers, he or she knows that it is likely that they will be able to convict you of DUI given the low standard that exists in Tennessee, and they will never release you to keep driving once you have made that admission. To top it off, you have most likely made that admission to an officer who is likely wearing some type of recording device, and your recorded admission will almost certainly be used against you at trial.

A good rule of thumb to remember is that there is a never a good reason to admit to an officer that you have been drinking prior to driving. Make that officer form his or her own probable cause and give yourself, and your criminal defense attorney, a fighting chance in the event that you are charged with DUI. In the event that you are charged, contact an experienced Tennessee DUI, such as those at Green, Waters Ogle & McCarter, to provide you with an aggressive and effective defense.

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