Independence Day is about celebration, but for too many it becomes the anniversary of their first DUI. If you are drinking this weekend, don’t drive. Even drinking a small amount puts you at risk of being arrested if you get pulled over and “fail” a field sobriety test. As an attorney I’ve had to defend too many people in court whose blood alcohol level was over and under .08% (California’s legal limit). Know that the law does not require your blood alcohol level to be over the limit to be convicted. The vehicle code includes a section that allows for prosecution for any amount of alcohol (or drug) in your system if an officer believes you are impaired such that you could not drive with the same caution as a sober person. This is very subjective making it easy to justify an arrest, especially on nights like July 4th and New Years Eve when there are check points all over the city.
If you get pulled over or stopped at a checkpoint know that you have the right to refuse a field sobriety test (FST). In my decade of criminal defense experience I have NEVER read a police report where the officer indicates that the driver “passed” a FST. The test is administered in a way that helps police observe everything about you and collect enough information to find you “impaired” and convict you. Even on their best day most people have trouble balancing on one leg for 30 seconds or walking in a straight line “heel to toe” without using their arms to balance. The best thing to do when asked to do a field sobriety test is to refuse. You have the right to refuse and that refusal can not be used against you in court.
You can also refuse the interview. If you’ve been drinking and the officer asks you how much you’ve had to drink you can simply refuse to answer or ask “are you detaining me or am I free to go?” The cop has to decide at that moment if there is enough evidence to arrest you without a field sobriety test or breathalyzer. If he doesn’t have enough, and he shouldn’t, then he will let you go or keep you talking to get more information. If you engage in lengthy conversation the officer will make “observations” to determine your sobriety, or lack thereof. If you admit to drinking then you have bolstered the case against you so keep your mouth shut or ask politely again “am I being detained, or may I leave?” Repeat as needed.
The best way to stay out of trouble this weekend is by NOT DRINKING AND DRIVING. Call a cab. That will be safer and much cheaper than the $7,500 in DUI fines, fees and legal costs. If you are feeling tipsy you can also call AAA‘s tispy tow hotline tonight for a free local tow and ride home (1-800-400-4222).
Have a happy and safe 4th of July.