At Hutton & Wilson, our Los Angeles DUI attorneys have more than 65 years of experience. During this time, we have seen that many of our clients are distressed, confused, and unsure of their rights during a DUI case. We have taken the time to compile a list of the most frequently asked questions we receive at our firm. We truly believe that education is extremely important, and making sure you understand what to expect could prove to be beneficial.
What happens if I am pulled over for drunk driving?
Once you are pulled over under suspicion of drunk driving, an officer will usually ask you to perform a field sobriety test. This usually consists of tasks that will allow the officer to observe your level of physical or cognitive impairment. You may be required to walk heel to toe in a straight line or recite the alphabet forward and backward. Though you do have the right to refuse, refusing to participate in a field sobriety test is generally fruitless because the officer will simply request that you submit to chemical testing. This may include a breathalyzer test, which an officer can do on the scene, and blood and urine tests, which must be performed at a medical facility. You are required to submit to such testing should an officer ask, and refusal to participate in chemical testing can result in a suspension of your driver’s license for one to three years even if you are found not be under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Depending on the circumstances, refusal to submit to the testing can yield a higher penalty than the drunk driving conviction itself. These “implied consent” laws rest on the assumption that if you have undertaken the responsibility of driving a car, then you have given consent to be tested for your ability to drive that vehicle safely.
The minimum blood alcohol level necessary to be considered “driving under the influence” or “driving while intoxicated” is .08%. At this level you are “per se” intoxicated, even if you show no outward signs of impairment. California, like every state, also has a “zero tolerance” policy for underage drinking — a person under the legal drinking age found driving a car with any trace of alcohol in his or her system will be penalized, regardless of evidence of physical impairment.
Sentencing for drunk driving is largely dependent on an offender’s history of drunk driving and whether or not the offense resulted in an injury to any other person or property. Individuals convicted of drunk driving may face fines, jail time, driver’s license suspension and mandatory participation in an alcohol treatment program. Recently, courts have been increasingly using “certified ignition interlock devices,” which detect whether alcohol is present in the driver’s system each time he or she wants to start the car. The device prevents the car from starting if any alcohol is detected. The convicted driver must pay to have the device installed and also pay for the monitoring of the device monthly.
Does the officer have to read Miranda rights during a DUI stop?
If you are driving and stopped for suspicion of DUI in California, a law enforcement officer is entitled to ask you questions without first reading Miranda rights. Your Miranda rights allow you to say nothing so that you are protected from incriminating yourself during an interrogation. Anyone who is arrested and interrogated by law enforcement must have these rights conveyed to them or there may be no possibility of a conviction. If you have been arrested for drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs, you must be informed of your Miranda rights if officers plan to interrogate you.
In relation to a DUI stop when no arrest has been made, the issue hinges on whether or not the officer was “interrogating” you while asking you questions. Because you had not yet been arrested and were not in custody at the time of the stop, your Miranda rights may not necessarily have to be read to you. Officers only have to read these rights when a suspect has been arrested and they will continue to be questioned by law enforcement. This questioning amounts to interrogation. If the arrest occurs but the officer has no questions, Miranda warnings do not need to be given because no interrogation is forthcoming.
Without first reading your Miranda rights, an officer can ask for a driver’s license, registration, and, in California, insurance coverage information. You must produce these documents or face legal consequences. These questions do not amount to an interrogation. The officer may ask a lot of questions and be seeking evidence of intoxication. If you are stopped for DUI, you still have rights even before an arrest is made and even before you have been "mirandized." You do not have to answer any questions but you must produce documents that the officer requests. Be polite, say as little as possible.
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