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DUI basics: what you need to know if you're pulled over

Suppose you are heading home after a nice evening out with friends at your favorite local restaurant in California. You're traveling along, listening to some music and feeling happy and rejuvenated after a fun time. The next thing you know, you've caught a glimpse of flashing red and blue lights in your rear-view mirror. An entire evening's worth of fun comes to a screeching halt as you realize police are pulling you over.

Whether you're a full-time resident here or just passing through on vacation, getting pulled over in a traffic stop is likely not on your 2017 bucket list. As you find the nearest possible place to come to a safe stop, a million thoughts may be racing through your mind. Exactly what you will say and do in the next three to five minutes (when the officer exits the police car and approaches your vehicle) would probably be a main concern.

Alcohol consumption plus driving doesn't always equal crime

Even if you did imbibe a drink or two containing alcohol before getting behind the wheel, it doesn't necessarily mean you have broken the law. The following facts may help you carefully choose your words and actions if you are facing accusations of driving under the influence:

  • Although you are not in police custody, you are indeed considered "detained" after coming to a stop in response to an officer's signal to pull over.
  • An officer must have a reason for making the stop and must clearly state it.
  • It is actually possible to be arrested for (and convicted of) DUI even if your blood alcohol content level does not exceed the legal driving limit.
  • You do not have to answer any incriminating questions (which, basically is anything above and beyond name, address and license and/or vehicle registration information) without legal representation.

There is also an implied consent law in this state. This means that upon the issuing of your valid driver's license, you essentially agreed to submit to any lawful request to take a chemical test in connection with a particular incident.

What about field sobriety tests?

If the officer who pulled you over requests that you exit your vehicle and perform certain field sobriety tests, you have another immediate decision to make: Will you submit to taking these tests or refuse them? Note the following:

  • If you do decline the officer's request on grounds that the tests are subjective and not required by law, you are within your legal rights; however, this could have negative consequences.
  • It is nearly impossible to achieve a perfect "score" on field sobriety tests.
  • Any response or action deemed less than perfect by the officer may be considered probable cause for making a DUI arrest (such as asking the officer to repeat a question or stepping ever-so-slightly outside the line you've been asked to walk, etc.).
  • Some say the less test results available, the higher chances are of avoiding conviction.

Generally speaking, things tend to go better if you act politely and cooperate as much as possible when law enforcement agents question you during a traffic stop. If you wind up being taken into custody, you'll undoubtedly want to contact your family. You may also want to request assistance from an experienced criminal defense attorney. It's obviously impossible to presume a particular outcome regarding DUI charges in California.

Much depends on whether it your first time facing accusations of drunk driving in court. Field sobriety test results, chemical tests and officers' testimonies also weigh heavily into the court's final decision. If you believe an arresting officer has violated your constitutional rights in some way, you'll want to bring this to the immediate attention of your defense lawyer to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to pursue a dismissal of charges.

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Fisher Law Office

1322 Morro Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401-4028

Phone: 805-706-0205
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DUI basics: what you need to know if you're pulled over | Fisher Law Office