Can You Tell Me What I Should Know About A DUI Stop In California?
The DUI process begins when you get pulled over. During the bewitching hours between 10 PM and 4 AM, officers are looking for any excuse to pull you over. This used to require an actual Vehicle Code violation. Unfortunately, the courts have continued to expand the excuses available to a law enforcement officer to justify infringing on your free movement in pursuit of DUI arrests. In fact, the relentless pursuit of DUI arrests has resulted in officers now being trained to see every traffic stop as a DUI investigation until they rule it out.
As long as an officer has the reasonable suspicion that you have violated any law—even an insignificant little law that 99% of the time the officer would ignore if you were violating in front of them at 11 o’clock in the morning—at 10 o’clock at night, that little violation becomes the most interesting and important violation of law and the officer will feel the need to stop you. They pull you over for one of the 20,000 or so vehicle code sections that you might be in violation of, and that gives them the opportunity to make contact with you, which is their ultimate goal.
Now, you might be driving perfectly fine and so you get pulled over for an equipment violation—your tags are expired, you don’t have a front license plate or your brake light doesn’t work, etc. All they need is reasonable suspicion that you are in violation of a law, and then they can pull you over.
Once they come up to the car, your legal obligation is to produce your driver’s license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration. But if you do all those things and the officer is standing there and talking to you, they can ask you additional questions and make observations about you, what is visible inside your car or smells emanating from your car. Any questions beyond the license/registration/insurance information are not required to be answered. You don’t have an obligation to answer any questions, but the officer is going to try to get you talking to gather information from you because they want to see if they can turn some minor Vehicle Code violation into a misdemeanor or felony arrest.
Everybody has seen a police show or a movie where they’ve heard the Miranda Rights given, you know the ones… You have the right to remain silent. Everything you say can and will be used against you? Well, it is very true! Unfortunately, despite almost everybody being able to recite those rights from memory, nobody does it! Everybody has the right to remain silent, but, it turns out almost nobody has the ability to remain silent! So having stopped you, the officer approaches your car and starts off with a question, “Have you been drinking tonight?” or, “How much you had to drink tonight?”
They’ll wait for an answer. Most people get nervous as soon as they get pulled over, whether it’s 11 in the morning or 11 at night, whether you’ve been drinking or you haven’t. I get nervous when I get pulled over! I do not like having a cop in a car behind me; I like to have them stand in front of me, I’m much more confident that way because I am in control of that situation. On the side of the road? The cop is in control of that situation. All I can control is how I respond.
When a cop asks you the question about alcohol consumption (or drug use), people usually tell one of two lies: First lie is, “Nope, nothing,” which if you have been drinking, just ruined your credibility for the remainder of your interaction. If you wind up with a criminal case and you need to testify, the first thing the prosecutor is going to ask you is, “You lied to the officer, right?” Yes, because the test comes back showing that you were positive for alcohol. Telling the officer that lie is not really a good idea. It can actually lead to being prosecuted for a separate violation of Vehicle Code section 31.
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The more creative lie (they think will throw the cop off the trail), would be to say in response to the question about drinking: “Yes, I had two beers (or two glasses wine), but it was like, 3 hours ago or so.” People think that because it’s a small amount of drinks and it’s been a long time, the officer will go, “Okay, fine. That’s all good. I’ll just get you on your way, then.” The unfortunate truth is that statement simply invites further investigation by the officer because they assume you’ve told the truth about drinking but you’re lying about the amount, and since you’ve admitted to drinking, they are going to have to do an investigation, “just to make sure you are safe to drive.” (It should be noted here that so-called “Field Sobriety Tests” have absolutely nothing to do with your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle!)
What they want to do is get you out of the car so that they can interact with you and then perceive certain things. They are going to look for bloodshot or watery eyes. They are going to try to see if they can pick up the odor of an alcoholic beverage. They are trying to perceive these things and listen to your voice to see if they can detect any kind of a slur in your voice. (Never mind they don’t know anything about you or have any baseline for comparison)
The last thing the officer is looking for is whether you have any balance or coordination issues: Do you have difficulty getting out of the car, or stumble, or do you have some unsteadiness—all those things that you see in hammered people in those propaganda commercials. The more opportunity they have to interact with you, the more opportunity they have either to see that or to say that they saw it, whether they did or they didn’t. Once they get you out of the car, they are going to start asking you questions that have nothing to do with your ability to drive. They’re trying to keep you talking, get you comfortable, get you relaxed and get you to share information.
They’ll ask you about when you last slept, when you last ate, and if you have any physical injuries or disabilities or anything. This is to get you comfortable. Don’t answer those questions. You don’t need to, because they don’t have anything to do with your ability to drive a car. All the officer is doing is prolonging his or her interaction with you, and you don’t want to do that. You want to get on your way. Having made you more at ease, the next thing the officer is trained to do is move you into performing what are referred to as Field Sobriety Tests or Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. Most people are familiar with seeing those on commercials or in movies. It’s important to note that field sobriety tests have nothing to do with your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. That is a complete fraud that has become a common misunderstanding, which everybody has because they’ve been associated in media with drunk driving and officers supposedly have you perform them to see if you’re okay to drive. (In fact, they are simply used to justify their arrest of you.)
If your performance on those field tests had anything to do with your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, don’t you think you would have been required to perform those same tests when you went to the DMV to get your driver’s license? You were required to prove your knowledge of the road laws, show adequate (or correctable) vision, and exhibit competence behind the wheel with driving tests? You certainly did not have to balance on one foot, walk heel to toe or follow an object with your eyes without moving your head. And, if you did? What level of performance would have been required to become a lawfully licensed driver?
Field sobriety tests are just window-dressing to help an officer justify his or her decision to arrest you. Should you do them? No. Is there a risk if you don’t? Yes, because the officer or the court could say that you didn’t do them because you were believed that you were “guilty” and that you wouldn’t be able to perform well, and so it shows a consciousness of guilt.
There’s a risk if you don’t behave in certain ways, or don’t answer certain questions in a certain way, or you are driving in a certain way. But if you say, “I have been informed by an attorney that I don’t have a legal obligation to do them, and so I respectfully decline because they have nothing to do with my ability to operate a motor vehicle,” then the likelihood of them being used against you as consciousness of guilt goes away. What you need to do is protect yourself.
Most people think, “If I’m nice, if I’m friendly, if I’m cooperative, the officer will see I am a good guy or a good gal and will let me go.” WRONG. Let’s go back to Miranda. Everything you say will be used against you. Everything you do will be used against you. Everything that’s good for you, every positive thing that you do will be excluded as hearsay unless you take the stand and waive your right to remain silent and testify later on. During an interaction with a law enforcement officer, if you don’t look out for you, nobody is looking out for you, because you are the target.
During your interaction with the officer, when he or she is trying to get you to talk, you have to look out for yourself. You want to limit your interaction with the police. If the officer comes up and asks you if you’ve been drinking, the best way to answer is with a question. “Why do you ask, Officer? Does that have anything to do why you pulled me over? Why did you pull me over anyway?” When they tell you whatever the reason was that they pulled you over, you can say, “Well, I don’t think I did that”, or, “Yes, maybe I rolled through the stop sign, or I was going a little fast (whatever the supposed issue is), but I would really appreciate it if you give me a warning but if you’re going to give me a ticket, I’d like to get my ticket and be on my way. I’m tired.
In that way, you’ll be answering their question with a question (were you drinking/why do you ask), not with an admission (yes) and not with a lie (no) and you remain focused on trying to close the conversation. You don’t want to keep talking: You want them to come to a conclusion that they do not have sufficient evidence to justify arresting you so that you can leave.
For more information on DUI Process In California, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (619) 817-8332 today.
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