A simple driving mistake at the wrong time can easily lead to a traffic stop. In most cases, a regular traffic stop results in a traffic ticket or a warning. However, if the driver had any alcohol to drink or smoked some marijuana, that simple traffic stop can end in criminal DUI charges. Unfortunately, drivers can face charges for driving under the influence even if they are not over the legal limit. This is why it is important to contact experienced DUI attorneys at Wilber Law Offices, P.C. who will investigate your case and fight against a criminal conviction.
DUI Defenses and Law Enforcement Violations
Law enforcement is supposed to follow certain rules and regulations to make sure they are not violating the Constitutional rights of drivers in California. However, the police do not always follow the rules and may be putting your rights in jeopardy. Throughout the DUI arrest process, from the traffic stop to chemical testing, any law enforcement violations can be the basis to fight back against DUI charges.
Traffic Stops for Impaired Drivers in California
The police need a reason to make a traffic stop. This requires a “reasonable suspicion” that the driver has committed a crime or traffic violation. The police do not need to suspect a driver is under the influence of alcohol to make an initial traffic stop, as long as the initial traffic stop is justified by a suspicion that the driver has broken a traffic law.
It generally doesn't take much to justify an initial traffic stop. Any simple violation could be cause for a stop, including:
- Failing to signal a lane change
- Rolling through a stop sign
- Broken tail light
- Driving out of a parking lot at night without headlights on
- Tinted window violations
- Throwing a piece of paper out of the window
DUI Investigations After a Traffic Stop
Once the police make the initial traffic stop, they may begin a drunk driving investigation based on their interactions with the driver. Even if the initial traffic stop was made because of speeding or broken tail light, if there are specific and articulable facts that lead the officer to a reasonable suspicion of drunk driving, the police may continue their investigation to determine if there is probable cause to arrest the driver for a DUI.
Some of the common signs that may alert the police, sheriff, or highway patrol officer of drug or alcohol use may include:
- Odor of alcohol on the driver's breath,
- Smell of marijuana coming from the car,
- Open containers in sight inside the car,
- Slurred speech,
- Bloodshot eyes,
- Admitting to drinking alcohol, and
- Conflicting statements about where the driver was going to or from.
DUI checkpoints, also called sobriety checkpoints or roadblocks, are an exception to the reasonable suspicion requirement for traffic stops. DUI checkpoints have been challenged in California courts but have been upheld as lawful. However, there are requirements DUI checkpoints generally need to follow in order to be considered constitutional.
If the DUI checkpoints do not follow the necessary criteria, your experienced Sonoma County DUI attorney may be able to challenge the legality of the DUI checkpoint. Some of the criteria include:
- Publicly advertised in advance;
- Reasonably located;
- Neutral criteria for stopping vehicles; and
- Drivers should be detained for a minimal amount of time.
Field Sobriety Tests in Santa Rosa
As part of the DUI investigation, police officers may ask the driver to perform a number of tests. These “field sobriety tests” are supposed to help identify whether a driver may be impaired by alcohol or drugs. The most important thing to know about standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) is:
Field sobriety tests are not mandatory in California. There are no penalties for refusing to perform them.
The standard tests performed by most law enforcement agencies and the tests which are reportedly more accurate include:
- One Leg Stand Test
- Walk and Turn Test
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN)
The police officer may make it seem like you do not have a choice or that it is in your best interest to perform these tests. However, if the officer wants you to perform the tests, chances are the officer is planning on arresting you anyway and is only looking to gather more evidence to support their probable cause case.
“If I'm not impaired, what do I have to lose?” There have been many drivers who were arrested for a DUI for “failing” a field sobriety test even though they were sober. There can be a number of reasons for failing SFSTs that are unrelated to alcohol or drugs, including:
- Medical issues
- Environmental factors
- Improper instructions
- Police failing to follow SFST procedures
Blood-Alcohol Level and DUIs
Drivers in California can get a DUI with a blood alcohol content (BAC) above the limit. This is known as a per se DUI. For a per se DUI, it does not matter if the driver was operating the vehicle safely. It is against the law to drive with a BAC over the limit (0.08% for most drivers).
Drivers can also face a DUI for driving with a BAC under the limit if the driver was impaired.
When it comes to alcohol, not all drivers react equally. Alcohol and other substances can affect different people in different ways. One drink may be too much for one driver while others can have 3 or more drinks and still be under the legal limit. Factors that can impact a driver's ability to operate a vehicle safely can include:
- Body composition
- Consuming food
- Alcohol percentage
- Serving size
- Combination of over-the-counter drugs
Chemical Testing After a DUI Arrest
The primary piece of evidence used against a driver in a DUI case is the chemical test result. For most alcohol-related arrests, this is a breath test. For drug or combination drug and alcohol arrests, this may involve a blood or urine test. Prosecutors use this evidence in court to show a driver's alcohol level or the presence of drugs in a person's body.
Under California's implied consent laws, drivers are considered to have agreed to submit to a chemical test after a DUI arrest. If a driver refuses to submit to a chemical test, the driver's license can be suspended for an entire year, without the opportunity to obtain a "work-license" or IID restricted license.
There are still ways for your lawyer to challenge chemical testing after a DUI arrest. If the police did not follow the proper procedures, your lawyer may challenge the use of the test results to keep them out of evidence. Talk to your Santa Rosa DUI defense lawyer about the best defenses available in your case.
Contact Our Santa Rosa DUI Defense Lawyers ASAP
Your experienced DUI defense lawyers will investigate your case to determine the best ways to fight the DUI charges. If the police or law enforcement took shortcuts, didn't follow the rules, or violated your rights, you should not have to pay the price for their mistakes. Call the Santa Rosa DUI defense team at Wilber Law Offices as soon as possible after your arrest to ensure all of your rights are protected and all possible avenues of defense are traveled. Contact Wilber Law Offices today for a FREE consultation at (707) 955-5298.