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Legal Defenses to a California Driving Under the Influence Charge – No Probable Cause

  • September 1, 2017

    A driving under the influence conviction is a serious problem that can affect the rest of your life. If you have been charged with a DUI in California, you should learn some of the legal defenses that will help you fight the case.

    Prosecutors must first prove that you were “under the influence”, and it affected your ability to operate a motor vehicle safely. They must also prove that you were operating a motor vehicle at the time of your arrest. However, the arresting officer who charged you with a DUI must have had probable cause to pull you over. Probable cause is an officer who has enough reason to believe you are in the act of or have committed a crime.

    Police officers in California do not need extensive probable cause to pull you over if they suspect you are driving under the influence. However, officers must still prove there was enough legal reasoning to pull you over for suspicion of DUI. For example, officers cannot pull you over for speeding or running a stop sign and then initiate an investigation for DUI. If you were pulled over for a minor traffic offense, you could argue that officers did not have enough probable cause to then arrest you for a DUI.

    You could argue that you were not driving erratically and not putting other people’s lives in danger. You were not “under the influence” at the time you were driving, and officers stopped you for reasons other than driving dangerously. You could possibly use this argument as not enough probable cause for the arrest, and you could ask the courts to reduce the DUI charge to reckless driving or ask for an outright dismissal.

    You have many other options other than probable cause to defend yourself against a DUI charge in California. If the arresting officer did not read your Miranda warnings as part of the arrest process, you can ask the court to exclude certain evidence related to your arrest. For example, if you did not know you have the “right to remain silent” and answered all of the arresting officer’s questions, you have a strong argument that all the answers should be excluded during a trial (if your case goes that far).

    A significant part of a DUI charge is your behavior during the stop. Officers often observe suspected DUI drivers closely to determine if the person is in fact “drunk” or “intoxicated.” Officers watch how you act, if you are behaving erratically, slurred speech, stumbling and your performance on field sobriety tests. If an officer testifies that you exhibited any of these behaviors, you can try and challenge the officer’s observations since they are purely subjective. Additionally, you could challenge the level of difficulty of the field sobriety tests. For example, many officers ask suspected DUI drivers to recite the alphabet backwards. This is a challenging task for most people, and the test does not reflect the level of a person’s sobriety.

    A strong defense is to explain your behavior at the time of the arrest. You can detail any physical limitations that you have, or your slurred speech is a result of lack of sleep or prescription medications. If you feel the instructions for the field sobriety tests were not clear, you should explain to the courts that you did not understand the arresting officer’s instructions.

    The bottom line is officers must have a reason to pull you over for suspicion of DUI. Your driving behavior must have exhibited some type of recklessness. However, keep in mind that your behavior can add to an officer’s probable cause for pursuing a DUI investigation.

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