You’re driving along a California highway, minding your own business, when you get pulled over by a police officer on suspicion of DUI. It can happen to anyone, even drivers who have had nothing to drink—but how you respond in this situation can make things far more difficult for you or, in some cases, much easier. To give you a better chance at the latter, we’ve compiled a list of “don’ts”—eight things you should only do if you are a glutton for punishment or hell-bent on making your DUI arrest more difficult than it needs to be.
1. Don’t be rude to the police.
In this situation, the ancient proverb applies: “A soft answer turns away wrath.”
No matter how annoyed you are at having been pulled over or how distrustful you are of law enforcement in general, nothing good comes from being rude to a cop.
At best, your belligerence could suggest probable cause to arrest you; at worst, you may provoke the officer to make things more difficult for you. Always treat law enforcement politely and with respect.
2. Don’t be incapable of handing over your driver’s license and paperwork.
Firstly, never drive without your license on your person and your automobile registration/proof of insurance in the glove compartment. If you’re caught driving without a license or proper paperwork, you could face charges even if you were completely sober.
Additionally, try to get your documentation together as soon as you get pulled over, so you can hand it to the officer when she comes to the window. If you’re fumbling around for the documentation, it could add to her suspicion that you aren’t in full control of your faculties.
3. Don’t admit to drinking.
The officer will probably ask you if you have had anything to drink.
Many drivers wrongly assume the officer will be more lenient if they volunteer that they “had a beer an hour ago.”
Actually, the officer isn’t interested in context—he’s there to decide whether he has a reason to arrest you. Admitting to drinking, even a “little,” gives the officer probable cause.
You have the right to decline to answers, so politely tell the officer you’ve been advised not to answer, or just stay silent. You might get arrested anyway, but you’ve given less probable cause to your case.
Admit nothing; let the alcohol test speak for itself, if the officer chooses to arrest you.
4. Don’t submit to testing before you’re arrested.
The officer is likely to ask you to take a field sobriety test (FST) and/or submit to an on-site breath test (preliminary alcohol screening, or PAS).
He may make it sound like you are required to take these tests, but, unless you are under age 21 or are on probation for a prior DUI, if he hasn’t arrested you yet, the tests are not mandatory.
Meanwhile, if you agree to these tests, you may give up important rights.
Additionally, FSTs are designed to be challenging and can be difficult to pass even while sober. And a PAS is basically an on-site breathalyzer test; it can’t be used against you in court, but it can be used to verify the officer had probable cause to arrest you. Again—politely refuse to submit to these tests.
5. Don’t refuse to submit to alcohol testing after you’re arrested.
Before the arrest, you do not have to take any tests. After the arrest, you are required by law to submit to breath, blood or urine tests for the presence of alcohol.
California has an “implied consent” rule that you agreed to these tests when you took your driver’s license. Refusing once you’ve been arrested could mean stiff fines, suspension of your license and additional charges.
6. Don’t answer questions at the police station without an attorney present.
Remember, “anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law.” Police are trained in persuasion tactics to get you to volunteer information that might incriminate you. A DUI lawyer will help temper these tactics and make sure you don’t give up your rights in the process.
7. Don’t miss out on your three phone calls.
Never mind the TV version of arrests; in California, you’re entitled to at least three completed phone calls after an arrest, not just one. Your first call should be to an attorney experienced in DUI matters. Your second can be to a trusted friend or family member, and your third can be to a bail bondsman, if necessary.
(Some people use one call to leave themselves a voicemail on their own cell phone, to help prove sobriety if their speech isn’t slurred.)
8. Don’t represent yourself in court.
Criminal charges are too complicated to fight on your own. You could be innocent of a DUI charge and still wind up with a conviction simply, because you didn’t know how to navigate your way through the process.
Don’t be your lawyer. If you have been arrested for DUI, one of the best ways to avoid unnecessary complications and pain is to hire a good attorney as soon after the arrest as possible. If you need us, we are here to help!