Breaking Down DUIs: What are My Rights When Pulled Over?

Road fatalities related to drunk driving have decreased by 48 percent since 1982, which means the warnings about the dangers of driving while intoxicated have had an effect. People who drive after having a few drinks often assume that they’re still relatively sober and therefore safe to get on the road, however, this may or may not be the case. It isn’t easy to guess whether you’re legally okay to drive, and by the time you see police lights in the rearview mirror, it could be too late.

DUI Law in California: Know the Facts

In the state of California, an adult over the age of 21 who is pulled over and found to have anything above 0.08 percent blood-alcohol concentration can be charged with a DUI. For commercial vehicles, you can’t have anything above 0.04 percent. If you’re a young person under the legal drinking age of 21, then you can’t have anything above 0.01 percent.

It’s also against the law to drive under the influence of cannabis, illegal drugs, prescription medications or an abundance of impairing over-the-counter drugs, such as cough syrup.

Pulled Over After Drinking: What Should You Do?

If you find yourself being pulled over by the cops after having some drinks, the most important thing you can do is stay calm.

1. Pull Over

The first step is to stop the car as soon as you see a safe place to pull over and park. If you panic and attempt to make a run for it, you’ll end up dealing with very serious charges. Pulling over in a calm and careful way will also show the officer that you’re thinking clearly and planning to cooperate.

2. Be as Pleasant as Possible

Remain relatively still and wait for the officer to approach. Once you’re engaging, remember to have a pleasant attitude and be respectful. The officer has the power in this situation. No one wants to face the possibility of getting a DUI. If you feel you were pulled over for no reason, you might be angry, but remaining level-headed and polite with the officer is in your best interest.

3. Provide the Required Materials

The first thing the officer will likely do is ask to see your license and registration. Try to behave as normally as possible as you search for these items. The officer will be watching to see if you appear intoxicated. It’s also wise to avoid any sudden movements that could startle the officer or make them believe you're grabbing a weapon.


If, for any reason, you don’t have your license and registration, do your best to explain this to the officer calmly.

4. Stay Quiet

Depending on the reason you were pulled over, the officer may ask if you have been drinking or using drugs. You might be tempted to say that you only had a beer or two when you really had three or four, but it’s better to remain silent. Officers deal with drunk drivers enough to spot the signs a mile away, and you’re not going to be able to lie your way out of trouble. Instead, simply say that you have the legal right to avoid answering any questions that may incriminate you.

It’s also important to remember that the officer only has the right to search your car if there is probable cause to do so. If there’s something incriminating hidden in your vehicle, it’s especially important to remain quiet. Saying the wrong thing could tip the officer off.

Many officers will ask for permission. They know people are afraid to refuse because it will look like they’re hiding something. However, saying no is within your rights. Simply say “I’m sorry, but I don’t consent to a search” and leave it at that. From there, the officer will need to find another reason for probable cause to continue with the search. If the search continues without probable cause, the findings may later be deemed inadmissible in court.

5. Consider Refusing the Tests

If the officer believes that you’re intoxicated at this point, you’ll be asked to step out of the vehicle. Do so slowly and carefully.

The officer will most likely ask you to take a field sobriety test, which you should refuse. These tests are not a good judge of sobriety, and some people can fail them due to nerves or feeling put on the spot. If the officer asks why you’re refusing, say that you are aware that you have the legal right to do so.

You also have the legal right to refuse the breathalyzer test in the field. The breathalyzer test is used to determine probable cause to arrest you, and your refusal could have the same effect. Refusing might still be in your best interest because the blood or urine test given at the police station is generally more accurate.

6. Go with the Officer

It's important that you don't resist arrest. Go with the officer and follow all instructions carefully. When you get to the police station, you’ll be given a blood or urine test to determine your blood-alcohol concentration. Don’t refuse this test. If you do, it could be argued in court that you were more intoxicated than you were.


After a DUI Arrest: Calling an Experienced Attorney

After you’ve been arrested, your next step is to contact an attorney who can help with your case. It’s important to choose a local attorney with plenty of experience in DUI law if you want to have the best chance possible of avoiding serious consequences. Attorney Virginia L. Landry is one of five attorneys in all of California to be board certified in DUI defense. If you're facing DUI charges and need help, please contact our experienced team today.

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