As much as we are bombarded with media messages and warnings to avoid drinking and driving—and the consequences if we ignore those warnings—it’s remarkable how much the public doesn’t understand about DUI, especially here in Los Angeles. In particular, people who get pulled over on suspicion of DUI frequently have inaccurate preconceived ideas about what officers can and cannot do, what might cause an arrest, whether or not the charges will stick, and so on.
To be clear, you should never get behind the wheel if you’ve been drinking, and nothing we’re about to say should be construed as suggesting otherwise. However, people frequently misjudge their own thresholds, and even people who haven’t been drinking sometimes find themselves under roadside investigation for DUI. Let’s dispel a few commonly held myths about DUI in Los Angeles (and the rest of California, for that matter) and replace them with the facts.
MYTH: Only people who have been drinking are arrested for DUI.
Reality: Sober drivers get arrested for DUI more often than you think.
False DUI arrests may happen for all sorts of reasons. For example:
• You might have been driving erratically or weaving due to fatigue (which often resembles intoxication).
• You might have a friend in the car who was drinking from open container (also illegal, by the way).
• You might suffer from nerves during the traffic stop, increasing the sense of suspicion.
• The breathalyzer test might produce a false positive. (This may happen, for instance, with people with diabetes or who are on ketogenic diets.)
• In some cases, an officer may simply be overstepping his bounds. (In Chicago, one officer reportedly made 130 false DUI arrests supposedly in an attempt to rack up overtime.
Remember, all an officer needs in order to make an arrest is probable cause—in other words, enough legitimate reasons to suspect you of DUI. With insufficient evidence, the arrest may not result in charges—and even then, a good lawyer can help you prove your innocence. But don’t assume that the absence of alcohol makes you immune to DUI arrest.
MYTH: If I refuse to take the field sobriety tests, they won’t have evidence to charge me with DUI.
Reality: The field sobriety tests aren’t used as evidence, anyway.
Field sobriety tests technically have nothing to do with proving your guilt or innocence, nor do those results comprise reliable evidence. The primary purpose of field tests is for the officer to determine probable cause to arrest you. You have the right to refuse testing until you are arrested. If you do get arrested, the police may conduct further testing at the station, either by blood tests or a breathalyzer, or both. Under California’s implied consent laws, you must submit to these tests, and these results are what will be used in court if you are charged.
MYTH: If I do well on the field sobriety tests, I won’t be arrested.
Reality: The police don’t rely solely on sobriety test results to determine whether there is probable cause to arrest you.
California police officers are trained to look for many signals of possible DUI, some of which are less obvious than others. For example, if the officer conducts an eye test and you follow all her instructions correctly, she is still watching your eye movements for signs of intoxication. She is also listening to how you speak and observing your physical movements even when you are not specifically taking a test. You can pass the field test and still be arrested for DUI—nor does passing the test guarantee that you won’t be charged or convicted.
MYTH: If I realize my mistake and pull off the road to “sober up,” I won’t be arrested for DUI.
Reality: The police may arrest you for DUI for the distance you already drove.
Bear in mind, pulling over was a good decision—but that doesn’t preclude the fact that you likely made a bad decision and drove DUI to get where you are. If an officer approaches you in a parked vehicle and suspects you were drinking, he may investigate to estimate when and where you drove—from asking you questions about where you’ve been to feeling the hood of the car to see if the engine is warm. If the evidence suggests you were DUI at the time you drove the vehicle, you can still be arrested and charged.
MYTH: My driving impairment occurred from medications my doctor prescribed me, so I won’t be charged with DUI.
Reality: If the drugs impaired you, you can be both charged and convicted of DUI.
Remember, the question here isn’t whether you were taking illegal drugs, but whether those drugs affected your ability to drive. Under California Vehicle Code 23152(f), [https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=VEH§ionNum=23152] it is illegal to operate a vehicle under the influence of any drug, whether legal or illegal, prescribed or over-the-counter. Always read the warning labels of any drug you take for indications that they may cause drowsiness or other impairments that make it unsafe to drive. When in doubt, don’t get behind the wheel.
Regardless of your guilt or innocence or whether you understood the laws and police protocols, being arrested and/or charged with DUI is a serious matter with potentially severe consequences, and you shouldn’t face it alone. For effective legal representation, call our offices today.