With another Thanksgiving holiday in the books, the California Highway Patrol has released the DUI figures. Statewide, arrests were down compared to last year, which is surprising considering the CHP had “statewide maximum enforcement” in effect. The CHP’s squad wasn’t just out looking for drunk drivers, but for any and all traffic offenders. By mere virtue of a larger number of stops, CHP would discover more drunk drivers.
What many people don’t realize is that many DUI cases don’t result from some crazy driving pattern, or a car accident. Often times a DUI arrest occurs when someone is stopped for something as innocuous as one brake light being out, their tints being too dark, or their license plate not being illuminated. Once the stop is made, if the officer smells any alcohol or sees bloodshot watery eyes, you can be sure the driver will have to submit to field sobriety tests.
Almost all DUI clients that submitted to the tests will tell me “I think I passed the tests.” Unfortunately, there is no “pass/fail” for field sobriety exercises. The exercises are intentionally designed to set people up for failure. I’ve heard prosecutors in other states joke that they tried the tests in their offices during lunch and they all failed! I assure you there was no alcohol served at their lunch.
So what should you do when you get pulled over? Refusing to submit to a blood alcohol test will result in a one year license suspension. However, failure to submit to the exercises will not. Should you submit to anything? In California there are hefty penalties if you fail to submit to a test. In addition to a year long license suspension, you will be required to take a 9 month DUI program (instead of 3 months) and potentially longer jail time.
If you haven’t taken the field sobriety exercises, and you refuse all testing, you might actually be helping your case in the long run. A good California DUI attorney will be able to use those things to your advantage. By arguing that the tests are unfair, and suggesting that refusal to submit to BAC testing is a right everyone should exercise, a jury could very well come back with a verdict of not guilty. After all, without any evidence, it will be tough for the district attorney to prove driving under the influence; it is illegal to drive while intoxicated, but it is not illegal to drink and drive.
The downside to refusal is that the license suspension is mandatory, without an opportunity for a hardship license. It will also result in harsher penalties if convicted. However, if your case ends up in a dismissal or acquittal, you will be entitled to a second DMV hearing in order to attempt to get your license back.
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