By Los Angeles DUI Defense Attorney Neil Shouse
It goes without saying that the best way to avoid a DUI conviction is simply not to drive under the influence. But if you have been drinking, and you do get stopped, here are several tips for minimizing the likelihood of it leading to a DUI conviction:
1. Find A Safe Place To Pull Over If The Officer Lights You Up
One of the first things the DUI officer looks to is your judgment in choosing a place to pull over, and how well you negotiate your stop. Try to relax. Don't stop in the middle of traffic. Drive ahead until you find a safe place, then signal and slow to a stop. Also, listen closely for any instructions the officer gives you over the loudspeaker as to where to pull over.
2. Keep Your Hands On The 10 and 2 Positions Of The Steering Wheel
Understandably, every officer worries about someone drawing a weapon at a traffic stop. Even the most innocent-looking driver could be armed and dangerous.
Alleviate the officer's concern by keeping your hands on the steering wheel-in the 10 and 2 positions, where the officer can see them-until he approaches the car. Don't go for your license and registration, or be reaching for anything, until he instructs. He'll appreciate the courtesy, and the encounter will get off to a better start.
3. Decline To Make Any Unnecessary Statements
You must tell the DUI officer your name and provide documents such as your license, registration and insurance information. But the DUI officer will ask you whether you've been drinking, what you drank, how much, when, etc.
You have no obligation to answer these questions, and you generally should not. Politely tell him, "I've been advised never to answer these sorts of questions and I don't wish to do so." Almost always, the answers you give will hurt, not help, your situation.
If you have been drinking, the worse thing you can do is to lie and say that you've had nothing to drink. The DUI officer will know that this is not true, and your dishonesty may be used to impeach your credibility later in court. Again, simply decline to answer the questions at all.
4. Decline The Field Sobriety Tests
Though the DUI officer may not inform you that you have a right to refuse to take these tests, you do. Generally, you should decline to take them. The field sobriety tests usually only hurt your DUI case.
In DUI reports, the officers tend to exaggerate your every mistake, while overlooking all that you do correctly. The officer may paint you as having failed the tests even if you performed them reasonably well. He probably expects you to perform them perfectly, a feat you probably couldn't accomplish even when you've had nothing to drink.
5. Decline The Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) Test
The Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) test is a handheld device the DUI officer may ask you to blow into right at the scene of the DUI traffic stop. Officers are supposed to advise you of your right to refuse the test-an advisement they often fail to give. Generally, you should refuse it.
The DUI PAS devise is completely unreliable. It often gives falsely high readings that the DUI prosecutor will try to use against you in court. Better not to take it. That said, in some cases officers will let a DUI suspect go if the PAS result reads a low BAC.
6. Don't Refuse To Take A Chemical Test After Arrest
If the officer does arrest you for DUI, he will let you choose between a breath or blood alcohol test. Under California's implied consent law, this one you have to take. Generally, the officer will not physically force you to take it (though in some cases, officers will strap the person down and force a blood draw).
In any event, refusing the chemical test makes the consequences of a DUI more severe, including mandatory jail time, a 9-month alcohol program and the possibly a one-year suspension of your California drivers license (with no opportunity for a restricted license).
7. Choose The Breath Test
You're generally better off taking a breath alcohol test than a blood alcohol test. The breath test is less reliable and more subject to attack in court. That said, another school of thought recommends the blood test. With a breath test, the DUI officer knows the BAC reading before writing the DUI report. He can then tailor his "observations" to fit the supposed BAC.
But when a blood test is chosen, the officer must write the DUI report without the benefit of knowing the BAC reading. Often times, the blood result comes back totally inconsistent with the things the officer claims to have observed during the DUI investigation.
8. Make An Itinerary Of Events Leading To The Arrest
Your DUI defense lawyer will need to establish a detailed timeline of everything you did in the hours preceding the DUI arrest: what you drank, where, with whom, when, etc. Write out this itinerary as soon as possible, while it's still fresh in your mind. Also, save (and provide to your DUI lawyer) any receipts for purchases of food and alcohol, and make a list of any witnesses who were with you up until the arrest.
9. Contact Someone Right Away
If you get arrested for DUI, call a friend or family member from jail as quickly as possible. Allow a third person to hear you speak logically and coherently, and to hear whether your speech is in fact "slow and slurred" (as the DUI officer will probably allege).
10. Be Polite
Yes, we advise you not to answer certain questions, not to take the field sobriety tests and not to take the PAS test. Nevertheless, you should be polite, courteous and cooperative with the officer-even if he doesn't show you the same respect. Remember, he has great discretion out there.
In some borderline situations, he has the discretion not to arrest you. He can let you call someone to come pick you up. If he does arrest you for DUI, he can leave your car at the scene, rather than towing it. He can go easy on you in the DUI report. Always try to make a friend out of the officer as much as possible.