DUI: What to Expect When You’re Caught Under the Influence

California has two relevant laws regarding drunk driving. The first law makes it illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol. The second makes it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration at or above 0.08%. Notice the important distinction here?

Driving under the influence of alcohol, as defined in the first law, has nothing to do with any measurement of blood alcohol, but only with an objective assessment of your sobriety. Imagine, for instance, someone particularly susceptible to the effects of alcohol drinks just one drink then proceeds to drive. If they were stopped by the police and the breathalyzer returned a blood alcohol reading of only 0.03%, they could still be charged under this law if something about the person’s driving gave the police probable cause to pull them over to begin with.

Conversely, under the second law, the impairment or otherwise of the person’s actual driving ability by the effects of alcohol are irrelevant to the reading itself. Another person might have been driving perfectly well, but was submitted to a breathalyzer test in a sobriety checkpoint, which returned a reading of 0.12%. This person, too, would be charged.

In practice, these two laws function as one. A person can be convicted of both offenses—sections a) and b) of Vehicle Code section 23152—but can only be punished for one, and the punishments are the same.

At the time of the incident, however, when a person has been detained under suspicion of drunk driving, there will be certain procedures that you can expect the police to follow.

Your encounter with the police will most likely begin with some questions. You should remember that you are not obliged to answer any questions that may incriminate you. This is your Fifth Amendment right. And while you will be (or should be) advised of this in the Miranda warning, it still applies at all times.

The same applies to field sobriety tests where the officer will instruct you to attempt physical tasks, such as walking in a straight line and so forth. Your participation in these tests is voluntary. The detaining officer should, but frequently will not, advise you of that fact.

At this point you should be given your choice of submitting either a breath test or a blood test. You can refuse this, too, but by carrying a drivers’ license, you gave your implied consent to giving a chemical test when required—meaning you can be tested by force.

The most important thing is to be aware of your rights at all times. When you are placed under arrest, do not say anything until you have your lawyer present. Visit our website at http://www.davidknechtlaw.com/ to find out why your first call should be to David Knecht.