You're Being Pulled Over in California and You've Been Drinking...Now What? (DUI Guide)
A practical guide for an individual that sees the police lights come on behind them and has been drinking, from the moment the lights come on to the conclusion of a possible DUI criminal case.
The Initial StopThe initial feeling whenever someone sees police lights come on behind them is always going to be nervousness but this feeling is especially heightened when the driver has had any alcohol. The following are practical steps to be followed from the moment the police lights come on. The first step is to pull over as quickly as possible where it is safe to do so. This is common sense in any traffic stop but people will often panic when they have been drinking. People may stall pulling over in the hope that the officer will move on to another car or may believe that their alcohol content will come down if they just stall. The reality is that a failure to immediately pull over is only going to put a police officer on edge. They will be suspicious as to why you are not complying and this suspicion will influence their interaction with you going forward. Additionally, if you try and run from the police, you can be looking at charges much more serious than DUI. The proper action here is simply to follow the rules and put the officer at ease. Once you have pulled over, put your hands on the steering wheel and do not make any sudden movements. Wait for the police officer to approach and be polite. Do not do anything to make an officer nervous. No matter what a nice person you may be, the officer has no idea who he has just pulled over. Any attempt to get out of the car or reach for something in your vehicle will cause the officer to react immediately as if you are a dangerous person. Once an officer approaches, they will initially ask for your information. Now is not the time to start complaining to the officer about why you were pulled over. Save the legal argument for an attorney. Simply provide the information that is required (driver's license, registration, proof of insurance). The officer may simply retreat to his vehicle at that point to run your information. If not, then he may be suspicious already and may ask further questions. That leads us to the next step in the DUI process.
Questioning by an OfficerOfficers are trained to be on the lookout for DUI drivers. If an officer smells the odor of alcohol, or sees bloodshot and watery eyes, or hears a slur in a driver's voice then they are going to ask questions about drinking. This is especially true if they have observed any driving they find to be erratic or if the person has take a long time to pull over as referenced above. These initial questions are designed to elicit information for two purposes. First, to see if further DUI investigation is needed. Second, to obtain information that may later be used against you in a criminal case against you, Whenever possible, it is more beneficial to be honest. If you are a 250 pound male who had 1 beer an hour ago then tell the officer that. (A handy chart that is provided by the California DMV is provided here https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/pubs/hdbk/actions_drink.) But if you are concerned that a truthful answer may be incriminating, then the best answer may be to politely tell the officer an attorney has advised you not to answer this type of question. If the officer chooses to continue an investigation, then he will likely ask you questions about what you have been drinking and when, what you have been eating and when, where you are coming from, where you are going, if you feel the effects of alcohol, how much sleep you have had, basic questions about weight, injury history, etc. Once again, it is important to remember these questions are being used to compile information that can be used against you. A polite denial to answer questions such as these is not against the law. After the questioning, the officer may then ask you to perform a series of field sobriety tests (FSTs).
Most drivers have experienced passing by a stopped police vehicle and seeing a civilian being guided through a series of tests. These tests can involve walking a straight line, standing on one leg, touching a finger to a nose, or reciting an alphabet in some form. The first thing to remember is that all of these tests are voluntary. Just like the questioning above, there is no legal requirement to do these tests. If you believe your performance on these tests can incriminate you, you can politely refuse. The final test is the preliminary alcohol screening device (PAS). If it is available to an officer, then it is likely that they will ask you to blow into a PAS device, The PAS device is separate from the blood or breath test that you are required to submit to if you are arrested. The PAS is supposed to be offered before a decision to arrest and once again, just like the other field sobriety tests, is not required unless you are under 21. The officer should tell you that it is voluntary although that does not always happen, While it is not viewed to be as accurate as a blood test or even as accurate as a breath test at the station, the reality is that the results of this test will be relied on heavily by the officer. If an individual blows a .08 (the legal limit in California) or higher then it is likely they will be arrested no matter how well they may have answered questions, performed other field sobriety tests, or generally appear to be legally able to drive
An Arrest Takes PlaceIf an officer decides there is probable cause to arrest a driver, then there are certain legal requirements for both the officer and for the driver. California has an "implied consent" law where a driver is required to take either a blood or breath test if arrested for DUI. The officer is required to give you a choice of those two options. If you refuse to take either test, then the DMV can suspend your license for a year simply for that refusal. The refusal to take the test can also result in an additional "refusal" allegation against you if you are later charged with DUI and this allegation can increase the punishments against you. It is up to the individual which test will be given. Most individuals would likely prefer to blow into a machine than to have a needle stuck in their arm. But there are some important considerations to take into account. A blood test will usually take more time to arrange as a licensed phlebotomist will have to conduct the test. A breath test can be administered by an officer at the police station. On the other hand, a blood test is harder to contest in court and is generally viewed to be more accurate. If a blood test has been given, it will take some time for the results to be analyzed. If a breath test was given, the officer may even tell you what the results were, Regardless of the test or the results, it is important to remember that the evidence gathering has not stopped. Anything you say to the officers can still be used against you. Additionally, any aggressive or belligerent behavior at this or any other point will be noted by the officers in their report to prosecutors. It is likely you will now have to spend the night in jail and receive a citation to appear in court for a future court date. Now is the time to make sure you prepare yourself adequately for your defense.
Hiring an AttorneyHire an attorney as quickly as possible after your arrest. You may be released from custody with a citation to appear in court weeks or months in the future. But the clock is ticking with the DMV. The DMV will receive notification of your arrest. If you do nothing, then your license will be suspended by the DMV despite the fact you have yet to be convicted of any crime. A request to have a DMV hearing will delay the suspension as long as that request is made within 10 days of your arrest. A hearing will then be scheduled for a later date. An attorney can also meet with you before your first court date to hear your side of the story and what your goals and concerns are for the case. It is important to try and hire an attorney before that court date so that they can begin preparing a defense. But make sure to hire the right attorney. Hiring an attorney is useless if they are not properly experienced, qualified, and ready to communicate with you about every step of the legal process. The right attorney may not be the cheapest available but it is vital to remember how significant an effect a DUI can have on a person's life. A DUI can result in jail time, fines in the thousands of dollars, driver's licenses suspensions, the loss of professional licenses, onerous classes and other requirements, as well as personal embarrassment. Speak with an attorney before making a choice and only hire them if you are comfortable with their expertise. I wish you the best of luck and feel free to contact me for a free consultation.