Most motorists in the state of California will be pulled over by a police officer at some point while behind the wheel. The majority of traffic stops are made due to minor issues - such as a broken taillight, speeding, or expired registration - and ultimately end with a warning or a citation instead of an arrest. But in some cases, a traffic stop can snowball into a serious legal issue if law enforcement believes that you committed a crime other than a mere traffic violation.
California authorities have made a point of cracking down on drunk and drugged drivers in the state. In doing so, officers tend to search for indicators that motorists have driven under the influence during a regular traffic stop. If an officer has suspected that you committed a DUI in California and has arrested you, it is imperative you know your legal rights and understand what's at stake. Most importantly, you should get in contact with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Reasons Police Pull Drivers Over for DUI
Most DUI arrests are made because a law enforcement agent acted on a hunch that a driver was somehow impaired. But what fuels this suspicion in the first place? The simple answer is that police are trained to look for specific signs of impairment and must follow rules as to who they can pull over and why.
Generally, a stop is legally justified so long as an officer has “reasonable suspicion” to believe you broke the law. Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard that requires officers to provide an objectively reasonable basis for suspecting criminal activity before making a traffic stop.
Here's an in-depth look at the types of driving behaviors that could (and often do) incite reasonable suspicion.
Failing to Maintain Lane Position
A significant deviation from a lane can be considered a “sign” you're impaired. Most motorists are prone to swerving or driving outside their lane on their own without the help of any alcoholic or drug substances. It's a pretty normal occurrence. An officer, however, has wide discretion to discern whether the swerving, drifting, or weaving through lanes is abnormal and warrants a stop.
The speed you were going in your vehicle is a common basis for police to pull you over. If you're going too far over the speed limit or even under the speed limit, you may be stopped. Varying speeds and randomly accelerating or decelerating can also technically be considered “signs” of impairment.
Perhaps you're yelling in your phone at your ex while driving home after a long night of partying, or maybe you're tailgating the person in front of you in the wee hours of the morning cause they're going too slow. These are poor judgment calls that may cause you to appear impaired to an officer.
As you can see, some of these indicators are vague, and many of them can be done by sober motorists. But officers are trained to believe that if two or more of them are apparent, the driver could be potentially impaired.
Legal and Illegal Traffic Stops
As aforementioned, reasonable suspicion must be established for a stop to be legal. The cues mentioned above are supposed to be sufficient enough to justify a stop, but if an officer can't identify enough of these signs, they may find a way around it.
For example, an officer may pull you over and after the fact ask, “do you know why I pulled you over tonight?” Some of them do this so you can provide them with a reason to justify a stop. If you admit that you did anything illegal - like running a red light or making an illegal turn - you may have incriminated yourself if they didn't see it happen. The best answer you can give an officer is “No. Why have I been pulled over, officer?”
Overall, if an officer wants to arrest you bad enough, they can find a reason to. This is why you need the assistance of an experienced DUI attorney to help you prove that an officer's account of what happened doesn't align with the truth.
Charged With a DUI in Santa Rosa, CA? We Can Help
If you've been arrested and charged for driving under the influence due to a traffic stop gone wrong, it is in your best interest to get in contact with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Wilber Law Offices, P.C. has represented numerous clients who've been charged with a misdemeanor or felony DUI offense and have successfully challenged the legality of stops and arrests. They have helped get their clients' sentences reduced and charges dismissed. They may be able to do the same for you. Contact our firm today online or by phone at 707-527-3451.