Q Help! There is a police car behind me with its lights and siren on, and I’ve been drinking. What do I do?
A The first thing to do is to pull over! Turn the car off and keep your hands on the steering wheel where the police officer can see them. If the officer thinks you have been drinking, he will probably ask you to exit the car and begin a driving under the influence (DUI) investigation. Whenever you talk to the police, be honest, but don’t volunteer any information. You have the right to refuse to answer questions.
The DUI investigation begins with a set of questions and then continues with Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) that determine whether you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If the officer determines you to be under the influence, he will arrest and take you into custody.
Once arrested, the law requires that you submit a breath or blood sample to determine your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). Refusal subjects you to a longer jail sentence and license suspension.
Remember, however, that you don’t have to answer the questions or do the FSTs. This includes blowing into the Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) device, the little handheld breath alcohol measurement instrument.
Although the law requires submission of a blood or breath sample after the arrest, the PAS is not required because it is an FST.
I recommend that you do not do the PAS or any FSTs. The officer may arrest and take you into custody, but refusing to answer questions or do FSTs might make it easier to fight your case.
The standard punishment for a first DUI is three years court probation, 48 hours in the county jail (many counties allow DUI defendants to do weekend work through the county sheriff’s department instead of actually going to jail), a fine (typically $390 plus assessments), the first offender program, and a four-month license suspension.
For example, in San Mateo County, the fine is $1631. That’s $390 + $1170 (assessments) + $30 court security fee + $30 criminal justice conviction assessment + $10 citation processing fee + $1 night court fee.
The first offender program is a class addressing the dangers of drinking and driving etc.; basically traffic school on steroids. The minimum length for a DUI first offender program is three months, but the court will order, and the DMV will require you to do a longer program if your BAC was very high.
Defending DUI cases can be technical and complicated. Make sure you consult an attorney before going to court. Your attorney will explain possible defenses and their likelihoods of success. Many attorneys offer free initial consultations, so take advantage of these resouces.
Naresh Rajan is an attorney in San Mateo County. Email firstname.lastname@example.org