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What to do if you are stopped for DUI

The police are in the news a lot these days. And a lot of the news is far from flattering. Whether you are a law-abiding citizen who respects law enforcement or you don’t trust the police at all, one thing is for sure. You are less likely to have an unpleasant encounter with law enforcement if you know what to do when you are stopped and act accordingly. In this article, we will discuss what to do when you are pulled over for DUI or “drunk driving” in California.

Understand California’s DUI laws

First of all, it helps to have a basic understanding of California’s DUI laws.  We use the plural because the state’s Vehicle Code allows for DUI charges in two different circumstances.

Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) prohibits motorists from driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both.  However – and this is important – your blood alcohol content (BAC) is not a factor with this particular offense. In other words, you could be charged with this offense if an officer stopped you for erratic driving and subsequently determined that you were drinking and/or using drugs, even if your BAC was under the “legal limit.”

On the other hand, California Vehicle Code Section 23152(b) prohibits driving with a BAC of 0.08% or higher. In other words, your BAC is the primary factor with this particular offense. It does not matter why the officer stopped you – this charge won’t stick unless your BAC meets or exceeds the “legal limit.”

Use common sense

No one likes seeing flashing blue lights in their rearview mirror. Even for the most responsible driver, the sight may evoke feelings of anxiety and dread. Believe it or not, the officer may be anxious as well. This is because traffic stops and domestic violence calls are two of the riskiest situations for law enforcement.

If you are pulled over, there are a few simple things you can do to ensure the traffic stop goes smoothly. First, pull off the road as soon as you can do so safely. Avoid making any sudden movements. Do not reach for your license or any other documents until you are instructed to do so. Be sure to provide your license, registration and proof of insurance when requested. If you are unable to do so, calmly ask if you can explain why you do not have the item(s) in question.

Be polite and follow the officer’s instructions. If you act reasonably, most officers will reciprocate.

Know your rights and act accordingly

In addition to knowing how to behave during a traffic stop, it is also important to know your legal rights and obligations.

The first thing to keep in mind is that we have an implied consent law here. It stipulates that anyone who gets a California driver’s license automatically “agrees” to take a chemical test if they are lawfully arrested for driving under the influence. We’ll discuss these assessments in depth shortly.

Secondly, you are not technically under arrest during roadside questioning. This means the officer does not have to “read you your rights.” However, this does not preclude you from exercising your rights at any time.  You are not legally obligated to answer any questions – especially those that are likely to result in self-incrimination.

Believe it or not, taking field sobriety tests is also voluntary. That’s right. Field sobriety tests are not legally required in California.

Police administer these tests to evaluate coordination, attention, comprehension and retention. Because officers do not tell them otherwise, most people think compliance is mandatory.  However, critics say these tests are not only difficult, but also highly subjective and advise motorists against agreeing to take them.  

Be prepared for the administration of chemical tests

But what about these “chemical tests?” Police can administer these tests before and after placing you under arrest.

Before he or she arrests you, a police officer may ask you to consent to a roadside breath test known as preliminary alcohol screening, or PAS.  You do not have to agree to this unless you are on probation for a DUI conviction or you are less than 21 years of age.

Even without PAS results, police may still have the probable cause they need to make a lawful arrest. If you are lawfully arrested, you must take a blood or breath test. From a legal standpoint, each has its pros and cons but refusing either has serious consequences.

Refusal after lawful arrest results in suspension of your license by the Department of Motor Vehicles. But that’s not all. You will still be forced to give blood for analysis. Not only will the results be used against you in court, but you will also face additional penalties for the refusal.

Be prepared to lose your license

Here’s something else to keep in mind. Your license will be confiscated if you are arrested and chemical test reveals that your BAC is at or above the legal limit; or the officer suspects your blood test will confirm that your BAC meets or exceeds this threshold. However, you will get a temporary license that allows you to drive for 30 days after the arrest.

After the 30-day grace period, the DMV will automatically suspend your license for four months – unless you request a hearing to contest the suspension. This must be done within 10 days after your arrest. As long as you request a hearing within the specified period, the DMV will let you keep your temporary license pending the outcome.

To deal with all of this, you need capable, experienced and dedicated Los Angeles attorneys to fight for you. Contact us to learn more.


PLEASE NOTE: This is not a representation, warranty, or guarantee of a future result or outcome. Every case is different just like every one of our clients.