WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU ARE PULLED OVER AFTER DRINKING
After an enjoyable dinner party where several bottles of wine were opened—feeling full in body and mind, but not particularly feeling effects of that wine, or so you think—you hop into your car and head home. A couple of blocks from home, you see one of Orange County’s finest flashing emergency lights behind you. The scream of the siren follows shortly thereafter. Your mind races. Did I drink too much? Why am I being pulled over? Am I going to get a DUI?
The outcome may depend on your response and even if you are arrested, the way you handle yourself during the vehicle stop is crucial. The first thing you must do is safely pull over using the appropriate turn indicator as you pull over. Don’t think that because you are only blocks from home, you can pull into your driveway and be legally “safe.” It is a common misconception that the police cannot arrest you without a warrant on private property.
Once you have pulled over, locate your license and registration. A word of advice: If you can’t easily find either one, don’t start frantically searching—for example, dumping out the contents of your glove box—this might look suspicious to the cop. Keep your cool and if you can’t easily find your documents, let the cop know and then take his or her directions. Once the officer has arrived at your vehicle, roll down your window and hand him or her your license and registration.
If the officer smells alcohol on your breath, you will probably be asked to exit the vehicle. Popping chewing gum or some other breath freshener in your mouth won’t save you. Often the fresh smell of chewing gum or a breath mint is a tell-tale sign to the officer. If the officer does not detect alcohol at the initial contact, he or she will look for other signs of alcohol use. Police officers are trained to detect alcohol use as a part of every vehicle stop so the officer will look for the typical signs in the driver’s eyes, speech, or demeanor.
If the officer asks you to step out of the vehicle, your best bet is to do so without argument or hesitation. However, if the officer asks you questions, you do not have to answer. Depending on the nature of the questions, it is often best to politely tell the officer that you decline to answer. Some examples of what sort of questions you might decline to answer are: Have you been drinking? How much have you had to drink? These sorts of questions can and will be used against you if you are arrested for DUI.
If the officer suspects you are under the influence, you will probably be asked to perform Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs). Under the law, you can, and you probably should, decline to submit to these tests. I discuss why you should decline these tests in this earlier blog post. Ultimately, whether you submit to FSTs (and even if you pass with flying colors) if the officer believes you have been drinking, he or she will arrest you for suspected DUI. At that point, you will be asked to submit to a breathalyzer test. Actually, the officer must give you a choice of breath or blood test (and in some cases, urine). Most people opt for the breathalyzer. Neither chemical test will benefit the driver one way or the other as both are accurate measures of BAC (unless there is machine or human error but that is a subject for another day).
You can, but it would be very, unwise to refuse the chemical test. Refusing a chemical test for blood alcohol will guarantee a DUI with harsher penalties against you. California has an implied consent law, which basically means that by driving on California’s roads and highways, you have already consented to the chemical test. Refusing the test results in a much worse outcome than just taking the test, even if you know you have been drinking too much. But it is important to distinguish between refusing a chemical test before and after an arrest. If the officer has not yet arrested you for suspected DUI, a roadside breathalyzer test is simply another FST and can be refused. Implied consent only operates after an arrest.
If the officer asks to search your vehicle, you have the right to refuse the search UNLESS you have already been arrested. If you have not yet been arrested, tell the officer politely, “I do not consent to the search of my vehicle.” Use those exact words. If you have been arrested, the officer has the lawful right to search your vehicle and you can be fairly certain that he or she will conduct that search.
The key to assuring the best outcome to a DUI vehicle stop is to be polite and cooperative but know your rights and exercise them.
If you have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, seeking the advice of an experienced DUI defense attorney should be your first step. Orange County attorney William Weinberg has many years of experience defending DUIs. Contact Mr. Weinberg for a consultation concerning your matter at 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.