DUI: Driving Under the Influence

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The legal limit of blood alcohol levels in California to drive is .08%, or .04% for commercial drivers.  For those under 21, it is .01% – in other words, any detectable alcohol at all is a violation.  The punishments can be severe, and even for a first time DUI usually include the following:
  • A fine of approximately $1,700
  • 3, 6, or 9 months of enrollment and attendance in a DUI class
  • Probation up to three years
  • 90 day license restriction (Note: this is in addition to the DMV suspension you may receive)
  • A jail sentence of 4 days to 6 months.

How Drivers Are Caught

Signs officers look for in cars on the road:
  • Negotiating a wide turn
  • Straddling along the central marker between the lanes
  • Appearing to be Drunk
  • Near misses or hitting either another vehicle or an object
  • Weaving between lanes
  • Driving off of designated highway
  • Swerving within the lane lines
  • Speeding over 10 mph above the designated speed limit
  • Questionable stops in traffic lanes
  • Tailgating
  • Drifting
  • Driving over center marker between lanes
  • Excessive braking
  • Driving against traffic
  • Questionable signaling
  • Delayed reaction to traffic signals
  • Inappropriate stopping or slowing
  • Illegal or unwarranted turns
  • Accelerating or slowing down quickly
  • Driving without headlights on

Signs officers look for once they’ve already pulled you over:

  • A flushed, or red, face
  • Red, watery, glassy and/or bloodshot eyes
  • Alcohol breath
  • Incoherent or slurred speech
  • Struggling to retrieve their license from a wallet
  • Inability to comprehend the officer’s questions
  • Difficulty when exiting the vehicle
  • Unable to stay balanced while standing
  • Using the vehicle for stand support
  • Aggressive or other inappropriate attitude
  • Soiled, rumpled, disorderly clothing
  • Inability to keep balance while walking
  • No knowledge of time or current location
  • Inability to comprehend and/or follow directions

DUI Investigations

An officer who suspects you of being under the influence will ask you a series of questions that seem harmless, like where you’re coming from, what time you started on your way, where you’re going, what you had to eat, if you’re diabetic (all of these are dangerous questions).  He will then ask you to step out of the car and do between 3-5 field sobriety tests.  Finally, he will ask you to take a breathalyzer.  If you are arrested, you will be taken to the station, given a warning about the consequences of
refusing to take another alcohol test, and asked to submit to either another breath test or a blood test.

How the DUI Investigation Catches People

Just speaking to the officer is already giving him more information than you want to: he can smell your breath.  So keep your window rolled up, try not to talk directly at him, and make sure not to fumble when you’re getting your license and registration out to hand over to him.

All of his friendly questions are nails in your coffin.  You should not answer any of them.  He is trying to establish all the facts he needs for a forensic toxicologist to determine your blood alcohol level even without any breathalyzer.  How long you have been driving, what you’ve had to eat, how much you’ve slept, and your medical conditions all contribute to the forensic toxicologist’s analysis.  Think of it like a big equation: a + b + c + d + e + f + g + h = your blood alcohol level.  If the officer can learn what a, b, c, d, e, f, g, and h are, he can calculate your BAC.  He’s just trying to make it sound like he’s interested so you’ll tell him the answers.  But if he has nothing to fill in for any of those variables, he has a much harder time figuring out your BAC.

The field sobriety tests are impossible to pass.  That’s right, impossible to pass.  Because they are not pass/fail tests.  You don’t get to go home if you do well.  The officer is just putting you through pointless exercises so he can see if you’re tilting your head back or swaying while you think the test is whether you can touch your fingers to your nose.  Each test has specific clues the officer is looking for, and they’re never limited to what you think the test is about.  So don’t agree to do the tests.  They’re unfair and they’re rigged against you.  And they’re optional!  The officer will say anything to try to get you to change your mind once you refuse to do the tests, but that should be a big red flag: he plans to arrest you no matter what!  He just doesn’t have enough evidence yet to make sure you get convicted.

The field breathalyzer is also optional – and highly untrustworthy.  There has been a big push lately at certain law enforcement agencies to ensure that their field breathalyzers are accurate, but it’s not guaranteed, and a slight lack of calibration can mean the difference between a DUI conviction and no DUI conviction.

The Only Mandatory Test for DUI
The only thing you have to do to cooperate with law enforcement is to take a breath or blood test after you’ve been arrested, at the police station. You agreed to do this in exchange for having a driver’s license issued by the state.  If you refuse the station test, you will be sentenced to two days in jail and your license will be automatically suspended for one year – even if you later prove you were 100% sober.  If you don’t have a driver’s license anyway, then don’t take the test!  Another time to refuse the test is if you are someone who does not need your license all that frequently, such as college students or people who usually walk or take public transportation.
Defenses to DUI
The possible defenses to a DUI are almost too numerous to list.  It all depends on the specific facts of the case.  A diabetic, for instance, may have a strong defense if for no other reason than that he or she is diabetic.  If the officer did not directly observe the defendant operate the car, such as when there has been an accident or they found the person parked on the side of the road, we use what’s called the “no-driving defense” – in other words, the prosecution can’t prove the defendant actually drove the car because no one saw it happen.  There is also a “rising BAC” defense if the police cannot establish a solid timeline as to when the defendant began and stopped drinking and exactly what time the driving occurred.  This defense argues that the defendant may have had a BAC that eventually rose to a level that was above the legal limit – but that the legal threshold was crossed after the defendant had already been pulled over.  Then there is attacking the accuracy of the machines that test the BAC.  The list goes on.

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