Should I admit to drinking if I am pulled over for a DUI in Vermont?

If you are pulled over in Vermont and a law enforcement officer suspects you of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs one of the first questions the officer will ask you is “have you had anything to drink?” What should you say?

Ethically, I can’t tell you what to say, but I can tell you what the potential consequences are of saying “yes” or “no.”

If you admit to drinking alcohol during a DUI investigative stop then the officer has a key piece of evidence he can use to ramp up the stop from a brief detention to an order to exit your vehicle. The officer can ask you to perform standard field sobriety tests or take preliminary breath test (pbt). In Vermont, law enforcement officers cannot force you to do roadside sobriety tests, but they also do not have to tell you that you have the right to decline such tests.

If you tell an officer that you have not been drinking then the officer might begin to pepper you with questions about “why does your car small like alcohol?”; “your eyes are bloodshot/watery/etc., why is that if you haven’t been drinking?”; “why do you smell like alcohol?”; or, “are you coming from a bar/restaurant/alcohol establishment?”. Most people give in at that point and admit that they “had a couple.” Inconsistency in responses can also be evidence against you in a DUI case, so you want to avoid any possible inconsistent answers if possible.

If you tell a Vermont law enforcement officer that you have not been drinking then he does not have that key piece of evidence to move the investigation forward into a full blown DUI. That said, he may be able to get enough evidence together to move the investigation forward through other means, but removing that admission to drinking from the equation can be a critical factor in later motion to suppress or at jury trials.

In some Vermont counties prosecutors have charged people who answer “no” but are later found out to have consumed alcohol with a charge of false information to a police officer. I think this practice is declining. Additionally, I question it’s constitutionality because a false information charge requires that the false information be given for the purpose to “implicate another or to deflect an investigation from the person or another.” 

I don’t know that answering “no” to whether or not you consumed any alcohol during a DUI investigation when you actually had truly constitutes an intention to “deflect an investigation.”  I only mention the practice of charging a false information to a police officer charge (FIPO) under these circumstances here because I have seen in charged in certain Vermont counties.

In short, the less evidence against someone in a DUI case, the better. However, even if you do not admit to consuming any alcohol, the Vermont law enforcement officer conducting the stop may have enough reasonable suspicion to further conduct the DUI investigation or even have probable cause for your arrest on suspicion of DUI.

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