Law enforcement agencies across California have been ramping up efforts to enforce drunk driving laws. As an attorney practicing in Indio, CA, I’m always amazed at the sheer number of DUI cases that come through the courthouse. Many people don’t realize how easy it is to reach a BAC of .08. Many more are unaware that they can be convicted of DUI in California when their BAC is below .08.
Palm Springs is a tourist destination with plenty of traps for the unsuspecting motorist. With the increased attention paid to driving under the influence, it’s important for people to know what to expect when they are pulled over and how to best protect themselves.
DON’T MAKE IT EASY ON THE COPS
Police officers cannot pull you over unless they have probable cause to do so, which generally means the cop must see you breaking some law. This could be as simple as having a broken taillight or expired tags.
Disputing the probable cause for a traffic stop is one of the most effective DUI defenses used by DUI lawyers, but a minor vehicle infraction is all a cop needs to stop you. Make sure the vehicle you’re driving is up to code!
DON’T INCRIMINATE YOURSELF
During the course of the DUI stop, an officer will attempt to question you. It is very important that you do not lie to the officer, but at the same time do not make any incriminating statements. Telling the cop that you “only had 2 beers” is an admission you’re better off not making. In the same vein, lying and telling the officer you haven’t had anything to drink at all could be used to impeach your testimony later at trial. When asked whether you’ve been drinking, it’s best to simply tell the officer that you don’t wish to make any statements.
FIELD SOBRIETY TESTS
Law enforcement is also going to ask you to complete several tests to determine whether you’re impaired by drugs or alcohol. These are the tests everyone is familiar with – walking one foot in front of the other, standing on one leg, reciting the alphabet. In theory, these exercises are designed to test your coordination and balance, as well as your comprehension. But in reality, you are unlikely to ever “pass” one of these tests. That’s because the grader is the officer and he is likely to see what he wants to see.
What’s more, these Field Sobriety Tests, or FSTs, are completely optional!
Its important to note that everything the officer does is geared toward acquiring evidence to use against you in a future prosecution. By performing the FSTs, you are not helping yourself at all – you are providing the District Attorney’s office with ammunition to use against you.
An officer will also likely ask you to provide a breath sample. This is not the same as the full-blown Breathalyzer test that is usually done after an arrest at the station. This is what is called a Preliminary Alcohol Screening test, or PAS test. This PAS test is considered to be a Field Sobriety Test, and like other FSTs, is also completely optional!
Unless you haven’t had a drop of alcohol that day, do not consent to a PAS test. Many people think their BAC will be lower than it actually is. Also, just because your BAC is below .08 does not mean that you cannot be charged with DUI. Trying to prove you’re below the legal limit through a breath test will still provide the District Attorney with evidence of your intoxication. And, as is often the case, you’ll end up blowing over a .08 anyway.
The burden is always on the state to prove your guilt. You have no duty to prove your innocence. Do not help law enforcement and the District Attorney’s office by offering them evidence they’re not entitled to.
If you have been arrested for DUI in the Coachella Valley and would like advice on how to proceed with your case, please feel free to contact my office at 760/861-5923 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christopher Hickey is a Southern California criminal defense attorney practicing in Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange Counties.