Even if you have nothing to hide and aren’t doing anything wrong, getting stopped by law enforcement at a sobriety checkpoint can be at least a moderately frightening experience. For this reason, we’ve compiled this short guide regarding DUI stops in California so you can be better informed of your rights, what to do if those rights or violated, and how a Tehama County DUI lawyer can help if you’ve been accused of driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol here in Redding, California.
What is a Lawful Stop?
As you know, law enforcement does have a right to stop certain motorists and approach them, especially if they have reason to believe the motorist is doing something wrong. This is known as “probable cause.” For example, if a law enforcement officer witnesses a driver swerving about on the road while traveling at an unsafe speed, he or she has probable cause to pull the driver over and potentially administer a field sobriety test.
That said, if a driver isn’t doing anything wrong, then a law enforcement officer has no probable cause to pull them over. In fact, the United States Supreme Court and California Supreme Court clearly state that an officer may not pull over or search a motorist unless they reasonably suspect that a crime is underway.
What is an Unlawful Stop?
If a law enforcement officer randomly picks a car and decides to conduct a traffic stop for no reason or perhaps for more insidious reasons, such as the person’s race or ethnicity, it will likely be considered an unlawful stop. Often, when an unlawful stop is performed, meaning the law enforcement officer violated the motorist’s Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment rights, then any evidence acquired thereafter should be considered inadmissible in a courtroom setting.
What Are My Rights at a Sobriety Checkpoint?
Sobriety checkpoints are a bit different in that law enforcement can lawfully stop any motorist and conduct a brief inspection to look for any signs of intoxication. That said, you do still have rights at sobriety checkpoints. To start, you should note that law enforcement only has a right to look inside your vehicle from the outside–meaning they can’t automatically search your vehicle unless you either give them permission to or they observe something through the window (such as an open bottle of liquor) that gives them probable cause to search the rest of your vehicle.
Additionally, you have a right to remain silent–to some extent. You are required, under the law, to give law enforcement your name, driver’s license, and registration. However, when an officer starts asking questions like, “have you been drinking tonight?” you don’t have to answer. That said, you should always be polite–being confrontational with law enforcement never gets anyone anywhere positive.
Finally, you should know that you have a right to refuse a sobriety test, but if you do, you will likely face refusal charges, which can ultimately warrant your arrest. Typically, a law enforcement officer will only ask you to take a sobriety test of some kind if he or she believes you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
What are the Penalties for Refusing to Take a Breathalyzer Test in California?
Really, the only reason anyone would refuse to take a breathalyzer test is that they’ve had “a drink or two” and don’t want to fail the test and get a DUI. While this may seem like a good idea (and you technically have a right to refuse to take a breathalyzer test), you will still face serious penalties. California’s Implied Consent Law states that when a person refuses to take a lawfully-requested breathalyzer or blood test, they will likely face a $125 fine and a one-year suspension of their driver’s license.
You should also note that you will face even harsher consequences for subsequent offenses, such as refusing to submit to chemical testing a second or third time. For a second refusal, you will face a two-year suspension of your driver’s license; for a third refusal, you will likely face a three-year suspension of your driver’s license.
If I’m Charged with a DUI, How Can an Attorney Fight My Charges?
Fortunately, being charged with a DUI is not a conviction. If you’re accused of driving while under the influence, you’ll need to hire an attorney who can assess the circumstances of your arrest and, from there, develop a strategy to combat your charges. That said, just some of the most common defenses against DUI charges are as follows:
- The stop was conducted illegally. As previously stated, if an officer pulled you over without probable cause, all findings of the stop thereafter should be considered inadmissible in court.
- The officer failed to properly conduct a field sobriety test, or you only failed the field sobriety test because of a certain medical condition.
- The breathalyzer test results were inaccurate due to an improperly calibrated breathalyzer or a defective breathalyzer altogether.
- The arresting officer failed to follow proper conduct at the sobriety checkpoint.
- The officer had no right to search your vehicle (known as unreasonable police search and seizure). Illegally-gained evidence should be considered inadmissible in court.
- In some cases, your attorney can bring forth credible witnesses who can attest to your sobriety.
- There was a false positive breathalyzer test result. Some people with certain medical conditions, such as GERD, can produce false positives due to their medical condition.
Ultimately, if you’ve been charged with a DUI, your best option is to simply retain the services of a competent DUI lawyer who can craft a strategy that suits your case and fight for the best outcome possible on your behalf.
Contact Cohen Criminal Law
If you were arrested for driving while under the influence of alcohol or have questions about how DUI stops work here in Redding, California, please don’t hesitate to contact Cohen Criminal Law today. Our firm has decades of experience representing those accused of driving while intoxicated, and we are here to fight for you as well.