What Happens During DUI Traffic Stops in California
While everyone has a vague idea of what police do when someone appears to be driving drunk, it is usually based on what they’ve seen in movies and TV shows and few people know their rights when it comes to traffic stops related to DUIs.
The Initial Traffic StopWhen an officer pulls you over, you are only required to provide the officer with information about your identity, proof of insurance and your car registration. If he or she asks any questions about where you were, where you were going or if you’ve been drinking, you are not obligated to answer them and, if you have been drinking, you may be better off politely declining to answer these questions.
You Don't Have to Take Field Sobriety TestsIf the officer suspects you have been driving drunk, he or she may ask you to perform a field sobriety test or to submit to a portable breathalyzer, also known as a preliminary alcohol screener (PAS) –again, you are not legally obligated to do so and if you did drink before getting on the road, you are probably better off declining. There is one important exception to this rule though and that is in the case of minors, if you are under 21 and asked to take a PAS, you are required to do so by law.
You Must Submit to a Chemical TestIf the officer believes you are intoxicated, he or she will place you under arrest and take you to jail. At this point you are legally required to submit to a chemical sample and refusing to submit to a blood or breath test will not help your case later on. In some cases, police may even physically force you to take a blood test.
By refusing to provide the officer with information on where you were and what you were doing and by declining the field sobriety test and the PAS, you will be helping yourself greatly by minimizing the evidence the officer will have against you. This means that even if you fail the blood or breath test, you still will have a good chance of winning your case.
Fighting the License SuspensionWhen you are released from jail, you will be given a pink notice of suspension that will serve as your temporary driver’s license until your suspension begins. The temporary license is good for 30 days, but you only have 10 days to request a DMV license suspension hearing. Your lawyer can request the DMV hearing on your behalf. After the hearing, you will get a written decision in the mail. If you lose the hearing, the DMV will give you a date when your suspension starts. If you are convicted of a DUI in the criminal courts, you will also face a second license suspension, but that suspension may be converted to a restricted license if you take the court-mandated DUI school.
What to Do When You've Been ReleasedAs soon as you are released from jail and given the pink notice of suspension, you need to do two things. First, write down everything you can remember from the arrest, from the words the officer used to the specifics of the DUI test you took. Even a seemingly insignificant detail might prove crucial in your defense. Next, call a DUI attorney as soon as possible.
Of course, even if you got this information too late, told the officer you were drinking, failed a PAS, a field sobriety test and the breathalyzer, you can still fight the charges. If the officer pulled you over without reason, for example, your lawyer might be able to show that your constitutional rights were violated and that you shouldn’t be punished as a result. Even if you cannot fight the charges completely, your attorney may still be able to get the charges reduced so you will face less severe penalties.