What to Do If You’re Pulled over for a DUI
The best advice I give my clients about avoiding arrest and conviction for a drunk-driving charge is simple: Don’t drink and drive.
Unfortunately, there are many people out there who fail to heed this simple advice. In these cases, there are a few important guidelines to keep in mind should you be among those pulled over by a law enforcement officer suspecting you of driving under the influence.
Be polite, calm and compliant with your actions. If an officer “lights you up” or otherwise indicates that you should pull over, choose a safe, well-lighted place to do so. Signal your intention and come to a stop. Keep your hands on the wheel where they are clearly visible.
Although it’s a stressful situation, you’ll do yourself a big favor by remaining calm and polite. Wait to reach for your license and registration until the officer requests you to do so. In everything you say, be polite and respectful.
Don’t answer questions. At the officer’s request, you are required to hand over your license, registration and insurance information. You are not legally obligated to answer any questions regarding how much you’ve had to drink, how fast you were driving, etc. In fact, anything you do say can be used against you.
If, for example, you’ve had four drinks and you tell the officer you only had one, you’ve just lied and damaged your credibility. Your best response to questions is simple: “I’ve been told by my lawyer not to answer these questions and I don’t wish to do so at this time.”
You have the right to decline a field sobriety test. The officer will ask you to complete a series of field sobriety tests (e.g. walking a straight line, estimating an amount of time in your head, etc.). You are not required by law to take any such tests. While you risk the possibility of irritating the officer, it is important to remember that these tests may be hard to successfully complete while you are sober and therefore tend to be set up for you to fail in the first place. Additionally, you are not required to blow into the hand-held breath device at the scene (Preliminary Alcohol Screening device – PAS). These devices are considered highly unreliable and just tend to give the officer another reason to arrest you.
Blood Alcohol Testing. If arrested for drunk driving, you will be subjected to a test to determine your blood alcohol level. California law sets out that you must submit to a blood alcohol test if arrested for drunk driving. If you refuse, the penalties of an eventual DUI conviction will be much worse, including mandatory jail-time and a possible one-year suspension of your driver’s license. That being said, you will get to choose one of 3 such tests: breath, blood, or urine. I personally would go with a blood test for several reasons, including that the law enforcement agency is required to maintain the blood sample throughout your case and you will be given the chance to re-test it, using your own expert, which may provide different, more favorable results on your blood alcohol level –neither breath (which provides no captured sample) nor urine (which has a limited shelf life as to the blood alcohol content) will give you such an opportunity to re-test.
Make your phone call count. Call a friend or family member as soon as possible from the police station. If possible, have someone else hear you speaking clearly and logically, so as to disprove any later charge of “slurred speech.”
One more point to make with respect to a DUI charge:
In California, there are two vehicle codes usually affiliated with a drunk driving charge. Under California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a), the charge of driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol doesn’t require a specific amount of alcohol to appear in your chemical test. California Vehicle Code Section 23152(b), on the other hand, specifies driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher. In other words, even if you think you haven’t had so much to drink that you are “over the legal limit”, you can still be arrested and prosecuted.
Finally, if you are arrested for drunk driving, make sure to promptly contact an attorney to go over to your rights and options, some of which require immediate action be taken. In a future blog post, we’ll discuss your options concerning the suspension of your license and your rights to challenge that suspension. For now, as noted earlier, if you plan to drink, have someone else do the driving.
Just got arrested for drunk driving or have any questions regarding the above topic? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offers a free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from DUIs, bankruptcy, debt collection defense, estate planning, family law, and other civil matters.