Selective Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) Grant DUI Saturation Patrol, now that’s a mouthful. STEP grants are awarded by the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) to programs across the state that serve to achieve the STEP grant goal of reducing the number of deaths and injuries on our roads and highways. The OTS campaign includes safety awareness and education, but the bulk of the grants go to police enforcement of DUI laws. That’s where the DUI Saturation Patrol comes in.

DUI Saturation Patrols operate throughout Orange County. Many of these patrols are funded by STEP grants. A DUI saturation patrol targets specific areas, at specific times, that are known to have large concentrations of drivers under the influence. The officers deployed on a saturation patrol are specially trained and specifically patrolling for drivers under the influence. Every city in Orange County and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department have saturation patrols, most funded by a STEP grant. Saturation patrols are almost exclusively deployed in the evening and night hours and increased during holidays. DUI Saturation Patrols are not the same thing as DUI checkpoints although they are often deployed in tandem and have the same goal: To reduce the number of drivers on the road who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Officers on a DUI saturation patrol are specifically looking for driving behaviors that suggest the driver is under the influence. However, just because a driver’s behavior is suspicious does not mean the officer can lawfully pull a driver over. The driver must be violating a traffic code; speeding, unsafe lane changes, or driving without the required lights (even one burned out tail light can be a violation), and failure to properly use blinkers are obvious candidates. But officers can also cite a driver for lane straddling, tailgating, or driving at a slow speed and other “catch-all” type violations. If the initial stop was not based on a reasonable suspicion that the driver was violating the law, the stop may be challenged by a motion to suppress on the grounds that the stop was unlawful.

Once an officer on DUI Saturation Patrol pulls a driver over, the officer can’t immediately presume the driver is under the influence just because the driver was a target of the DUI saturation patrol. There must be reasonable suspicion that the driver is under the influence. The most common of these is the strong odor of alcohol emanating from the person’s breath but there are many other factors an officer might rely upon when establishing reasonable suspicion—for example, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, lack of alertness, just to name a few. If a driver is suspected of driving under the influence, the officer will ask the driver to perform FSTs and/or submit to a preliminary alcohol screening. These preliminary screenings are voluntary and it is usually a good idea to politely decline to participate.

The officer must establish probable cause to arrest a driver for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is not enough for the officer to just suspect the driver is under the influence; the officer must be able give an explanation that demonstrates why the officer believed the driver was under the influence. The explanation must be reasonable and precise. If the officer’s explanation fails to articulate a specific and reasonable reason for the arrest, the arrest may be challenged by a motion to suppress the arrest on the grounds that it was unlawful. It is important to remember that whether the driver thinks the arrest was lawful or not, once under arrest, the driver must submit to a chemical test for alcohol or drugs under the implied consent law or face stiff penalties for refusing to submit.

We are in the middle of the holiday season and you can bet law enforcement DUI saturation patrols are in full swing. If you have been charged with a DUI, whether as a target of a saturation patrol or not, an experienced DUI attorney can help. Orange County DUI attorney William Weinberg has been defending drivers charged with a DUI for almost 25 years. Attorney Weinberg offers a complimentary consultation regarding your specific DUI arrest and charge. Feel free to contact him at his Irvine office at (949)474-8008 or by emailing him at bill@williamweinberg.com.