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THE UNEXPECTED DUI

The news of the DUI arrest of Paul Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi’s husband, has been splashed all over the news this week. Mr. Pelosi was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol after his Porsche was hit by another vehicle. Fortunately, the collision was minor, and no one was hurt

This incident serves as a warning to those who think they are fine to drive after a few drinks. Maybe such a driver can drive within the lines and within the speed limit. Maybe that slightly inebriated driver stops at all the stop signs and red lights and remembers to turn on the headlights. Maybe that driver does everything right. But then an unplanned event happens. Most often, it is exactly what happened to Mr. Pelosi: another driver causes an accident. Or it may be that an animal, say a deer, runs in front of the driver’s vehicle causing the driver to swerve or otherwise causing an incident that catches the attention of law enforcement. Maybe a pedestrian or bicyclist crosses the street too close to the driver’s on-coming vehicle causing an incident. You get the picture. Any number of unforeseen events, events that were not a direct result of the driver’s conduct, can trigger an encounter with law enforcement, which can trigger a DUI.

Under due process laws, an officer must have reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop. In other words, the officer must witness the driver violating a traffic law – it could be as simple as a broken taillight – but in most cases, an officer cannot stop vehicles without reason. (An exception is a sobriety checkpoint.)  If the officer can articulate a reasonable suspicion for the stop, if the officer reasonably suspects the driver to be under the influence, he or she will initiate a DUI investigation.  The officer must be able to articulate what caused the belief that the driver was under the influence. That could be slurred speech, the smell of alcohol or marijuana, blood shot eyes and so on.  The bar gets a bit higher if the officer determines that the driver should be arrested for DUI.  That is, the officer must have probable cause to arrest the driver for DUI. This requires specific facts for the arrest. This may be the same observations that triggered the investigation,  but is often poor performance on FSTs (which I have discussed elsewhere, the informed driver should always decline).

So how does it work when a driver is not stopped by the police for reasonable suspicion that the driver was breaking the law, but then arrested for DUI, as was the case with Mr. Pelosi? Was Mr. Pelosi’s arrest a violation of his due process? No. The law enforcement officer who responded to the traffic accident did not violate Mr. Pelosi’s rights when he made contact with him in relation to the accident. While we do not know that specifics, we can assume that something about Mr. Pelosi’s behavior or presence led the officer to have reasonable suspicion that Mr. Pelosi was under the influence. Even though the initial encounter was not a traffic stop and even though Mr. Pelosi did not violate any law, the officer was duty-bound and well within the law to investigate his or her reasonable suspicion that Mr. Pelosi was under the influence.

You may have had only a couple of beers and feel fine to drive. You may have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of only 0.081, just a tad over the legal limit. You may, in fact, safely drive (noting that your reflexes may be diminished by the alcohol). But then the unexpected happens and someone rear-ends you at a traffic light, which causes your vehicle to rear-end the vehicle in front of you.  Before you know it, an officer is asking you if you have been drinking.

The best policy is to never drive under the influence – even under mild influence. But if you find yourself slapped with a DUI, Orange County DUI defense attorney William Weinberg can help. Perhaps the arresting officer’s reasonable suspicion or probable cause is vague.  Perhaps your just over the threshold BAC can be challenged. There are defenses to a DUI that may result in dismissal or a reduction of the charges.

Attorney William Weinberg has been defending DUI clients in Orange County and surrounding counties for over 25 years. If there is a viable defense to your charges, he will find it! Contact him for a free consultation. He will review your case and offer his assessment of your defenses and options. He can be reached at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at bill@williamweinberg.com.

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