What Should I Know About a DUI Stop In California

As nervous as you might be about being stopped by an officer, either at a California checkpoint or under suspicion of driving under the influence, remember that you have rights that you can exercise. Law enforcement officers have a strict protocol to follow, and they do not always follow them. Additionally, the officer might make you feel like you have to listen to every command, but you have many rights in the situation, and you should not always comply. If you choose to exercise your rights, remember to do it with respect and manners. Remember that the officer is just doing his job of keeping everyone on the road safe.

Procedures of Officers in the case of a DUI

Whether you are entering a sobriety checkpoint or being pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence, police officers must follow guidelines that were given to them in training.

At a checkpoint stop, an officer will ask your destination and if you have been drinking. They will also ask you to perform sobriety tests or take a breathalyzer if they suspect you’re under the influence.

Upon pulling you over on suspicion of driving under the influence, the officer comes to the window and asks for your license and registration. They will be looking for a couple of things when asking you to provide the documents: fumbling to the documents, presence of the smell of alcohol, hesitation and difficulty answering questions, visible proof of alcohol or drugs or paraphernalia, or signs of physical impairment like slurred speech.

Naturally, if any of these are detected by the officer, they will investigate further. You will be asked to perform an FST or field sobriety test. Another possible assessment would be a PAS or a Preliminary Alcohol Screening, more commonly known as a breathalyzer test.

At this point, the officer decides, based on the test results, if there is a reason to arrest.  He must believe that you are in violation of the Vehicle Code 23152(a) driving under the influence of alcohol, Vehicle Code 23152(c) driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 or greater, or Vehicle Code 23152(e) driving under the influence of drugs.

Rights of the Driver

There are several ways to exercise your rights in the case of a sobriety checkpoint and when being pulled over under the suspicion of driving under the influence. Although the officer may be intimidating and might make you believe that you must comply with everything, you do not. Here are a few things you can do to protect yourself in a case of sobriety checkpoint or other DUI encounter:

·         You can always exercise your right to remain silent. You can politely tell the officer you would prefer to answer all questions with a lawyer present.

·         You should not admit to having any alcoholic drinks. You can again plead your right to remain silent.

·         The Field Sobriety Tests are not required by law. You can decline the FST, and you should. The tests do not all hold up in court because they are not reliably accurate.

·         While most people believe they must take the breathalyzer test, it is only mandated by law when you are under arrest for suspicion of DUI, not beforehand. You can refuse the breathalyzer if you have not been arrested, but it will often result in the officer arresting you just to get the sample. It is part of the Implied Consent Law of California. 

Additionally, there may be other consequences for refusing a breathalyzer, such as having your license revoked, regardless of whether you are found to be under the influence or not. 

Other Regulations for Checkpoints

There is a specific way in which a checkpoint has to be set up and facilitated in California. There are several preliminary steps and real-time procedures that must be explicitly followed at a checkpoint:

·         There must be an advanced advertisement of the checkpoint.

·         Signage must be in place to ensure that drivers have an alternate route if necessary.

·         Safety precautions must be in place.

·         Location has to be reasonable.

·         Time and duration must also be reasonable.

·         There should be a steady flow of traffic, no holding drivers for long periods of time.

·         All vehicles must be stopped, with no discrimination.

·         A supervising officer has to make the final decisions on drivers' arrests.

Always remember you are innocent until proven guilty, you have the right to remain silent, and you have the right to a lawyer’s presence when answering questions. Although it is tough to exercise your rights in the face of an officer, just remember to always be respectful to the officer but also have confidence in your rights.


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