If the police stop you in California for suspicion of DUI (driving under the influence), does the law require you to submit to a field sobriety test? What about a breath exam? If you refuse the test, what can happen? Will you need to speak with an Orange County DUI attorney?
These are complicated questions because the DUI laws are complicated in California. If you’ll continue reading, you will find some answers, and you’ll also learn more about DUI testing and more about your rights in this state.
Whenever a California law enforcement officer pulls over a driver in traffic, if the officer has reason to believe that the driver is operating under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, the officer may ask the driver to submit to a field sobriety test.
Field sobriety tests are the types of tests where you must walk a straight line, stand on one leg, or recite the alphabet backwards. A field sobriety test that indicates a motorist may be too intoxicated to drive safely will probably be followed up with a breathalyzer test.
WHAT DOES IMPLIED CONSENT MEAN?
The “implied consent” statute in California requires motorists who’ve been arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence to take a chemical DUI test – a breath, blood, or urine examination – to determine the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) level.
Motorists usually have the option of submitting a blood sample or taking a breathalyzer test. A urine sample may be requested if the driver’s medical condition precludes blood testing or if no breath or blood test equipment is available.
IF YOU ARE UNDER 21 OR SERVING DUI PROBATION
Unless a driver is under the age of 21 or is currently serving probation for a driving under the influence conviction, in the state of California, a driver does not have to submit to any DUI test until and unless that driver has been formally and lawfully arrested.
If you are 21 or older, you are not serving probation for a DUI conviction, and you have not been placed in custody, the law does not require you to submit to any field sobriety test or breath exam. But that is often where the troubles can begin for a driver suspected of DUI. Here’s why.
When a police officer pulls you over because he or she suspects DUI, that officer will need “probable cause” in order to arrest you. Failing a roadside breathalyzer test gives the officer probable cause, but refusing to take the test may also constitute probable cause.
Either way, a driver will likely be placed under arrest, and then the driver is required by law to submit to a chemical DUI examination.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU REFUSE TO TEST?
After you have been arrested, if the police ask you to submit to a chemical DUI test, the police are required by law to tell you what penalties you may expect for a refusal to test.
The police also must explain that your refusal to test can be offered as evidence of your guilt in a criminal driving under the influence prosecution. Refusing a urine, blood, or breath test after being arrested can be penalized with a suspension of your driver’s license for a year.
These penalties are in addition to any penalties you face for the DUI charge. No matter what you think or what you have been told, refusing to take a DUI test will not help you avoid a conviction for DUI in this state. You may be convicted of DUI in California without test results of any kind.
In fact, a prosecutor will probably claim that a driver refused to submit to a DUI test because the driver knew that he or she was intoxicated and was certain to fail.
ARE THESE TESTS RELIABLE?
Blood tests are the most precise, but when blood samples are not preserved or if they’re handled improperly, or if a sample is contaminated, it can provide an inaccurate test result. When that happens, a DUI lawyer can cast doubt on the test result or keep it from being used as evidence.
Still, California motorists should know that blood tests are usually considered “accurate enough” for use as evidence – conclusive evidence – in most driving under the influence cases.
Breathalyzer tests can be inaccurate for a number of reasons. Wrong results are more likely when a driver has a medical condition like hypoglycemia, diabetes, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Breathalyzer devices must be regularly maintained and calibrated, and the law enforcement officers who administer breathalyzer exams must be trained to conduct the tests legally and to adhere to standard testing procedures.
WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT IF YOU ARE CONVICTED OF DUI?
The reality is that a breath or blood test will give police officers a generally reliable measurement of a motorist’s intoxication level. DUI laws are aggressively enforced, so anyone who is accused of DUI must have the right Orange County criminal defense attorney fighting on his or her behalf.
The penalties for a first-offense misdemeanor driving under the influence conviction in California may include:
1. a $390 to $1000 fine
2. additional assessments and fees
3. up to six months in jail
4. a six-month suspension of the offender’s driver’s license
5. three to five years on probation
The court may also require first-time DUI offenders to place an ignition interlock device in their own personal vehicles. Convicted offenders may also be ordered to take DUI education classes or receive treatment – at their own cost.
HERE’S THE BEST ADVICE
The way to keep from being arrested, tested, or tried for DUI is by following the advice you’ve heard before – Don’t Drink and Drive. In Orange County, there’s no shortage of rides-for-hire – limos, taxis, Uber, and Lyft for instance – and most of these services operate around the clock.
You could also ride with a designated driver, rent a room for the night, or arrange to sleep on a friend’s sofa. You should do whatever it takes to avoid driving under the influence.
But if you make a judgment mistake – or if you’re innocent, and you have been wrongly charged and arrested for driving under the influence – the legal counsel you need is here, available, and ready to fight for the justice you need and deserve.