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The annual Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Festival Weekend attracts wine and food lovers for an opportunity to meet the vintners, taste their wines, and welcome spring with great food and music, beautiful vineyards, and the chance to explore the open space and serenity of ranch and oak tree-dotted Santa Ynez Valley. A great weekend includes a great drive down Foxen Canyon to “The Shack” (the original Foxen), a stop at Buttonwood Farms Winery for their fresh peach pie, sitting under a tree at Brander Vineyard, a hike above Zaca Mesa, a picnic with friends. However, with intensified DUI enforcement for the festival weekend, a day of fun can unexpectedly go as bad as a great wine with bottle shock. So let’s “pop the cork” on DUI investigation and defense in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY SPRINT VINTNER’S FESTIVAL WEEKEND: THE BEST DEFENSE IS A GOOD OFFENSE

As we approach the 33rd Annual Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Festival weekend this April, be aware that special events, like holidays, bring out intensified DUI enforcement in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. Officers from city police departments covering Santa Barbara, Lompoc, Guadalupe and Santa Maria, along with CHP, UCSB and California State Parks officers and sheriffs department deputies, will participate in the “Avoid the 12” deployment on the day of the special festival. In past years, an estimated 22 extra officers were out in force to focus their DUI enforcement efforts on the Lompoc and Santa Ynez valley areas. In 2012 during the Santa Barbara County Vintner’s festival, 77 individuals were stopped for suspected Driving Under the Influence. At the end of 2012, the SB Co. Sheriff’s Office received a $130,000 grant for a new county-wide DUI enforcement campaign called “Avoid the 12”, aptly named because you run the real risk of getting arrested by any of the 12 participating Law enforcement agencies in the county.

Similarly, Ventura County has its own program of intensified DUI Enforcement designed for holidays, special events, and other occasions where officers suspect more potential DUI drivers are on the road. Labeled the Ventura County “Avoid the 14 Task Force”, this is a multi-agency effort to aggressively target potential impaired drivers with DUI checkpoints, 15 local DUI saturation patrols, a Multi-Agency DUI Taskforce strike team patrol, and a DUI warrant/probation sweep. Law enforcement agencies have seen their intensified efforts result in a sharp spike in DUI arrests. For example, the Ventura County “Avoid the 14 Task Force” arrested 92 individuals for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in only a two week period during Christmas 2012. That’s six people every day arrested in Ventura County on charges of DUI during a peak enforcement period.

Law Enforcement has manifested an ever-escalating determination to commit more resources, and to coordinate more agencies, in an attempt to address the high-risk scenario that they believe will be presented by the popular Spring Vintners festival, which brings people from all over the state and beyond to Santa Barbara County. During this “peak time”, law enforcement agencies will surely continue their intensified effort to stop and investigate drivers – whether for something as minor as a “traffic infraction” that quickly escalates into a DUI investigation or on suspicion of driving while impaired. In such cases, advance information – about what to do when stopped, about what officers are looking for, and about some important issues in your DUI case – is your best defense.

DUI ENFORCEMENT IN SANTA BARBARA AND VENTURA COUNTY

The charge of Driving Under the Influence under Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) or(b) requires one of two things: that, at the time you are driving, you are either (1 ) driving while your ability to drive is impaired or (2) driving with .08% or greater blood alcohol content. For the offense of driving while your ability to drive is impaired under VC 23152(a), a blood alcohol test of .08% is not required ({although it is an important piece of evidence in your case). Even if you are tested at a level lower than .08%, you can be charged with DUI-impaired driving if there is other evidence which the officer believes supports impairment.

Common evidence of impairment is found by officers in four different areas: (1) the observed driving pattern, (2) observed symptoms, (3) the alleged results of roadside exercises labeled “field sobriety tests” by law enforcement, and (4) the preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) and final breath or blood test result. To the extent that you answer the officers’ questions as to how much you had to drink, when your last drink was, and what you had to drink, you also provide information which can bolster the case against you. Other than providing your license, registration, and proof of insurance, you can politely decline to answer any further officer questions. Neither do you have to do the so-called “field sobriety tests” or give officers a preliminary breath test (the “preliminary alcohol screening” test) that officers will ask you to perform. Even if you believe that you are not driving while impaired, it is important to keep one thing in mind when dealing with officers: All of this information which they are attempting to gather can only be used for one purpose – against you. It is not your responsibility to provide officers with any information (beyond providing the basic information) that they can use to attempt to build the case against you.

If you do speak to the officers, though, do not despair. Speaking to officers is actually very common, whether because we believe that we are innocent and are sure that officers will understand if we can only explain ourselves, or because we feel very understandably pressured by the show of force and authority represented by officers. If information is gathered in your case, your defense will shift gears to analyzing and overcoming any potentially damaging information that has been brought out. When it comes to your DUI Defense, we look first at the observed driving. Were you stopped for a common traffic infraction such as speeding which does not in itself indicate impairment or for a driving pattern such as weaving which could suggest impairment? Even in a situation where you are stopped for a mere traffic infraction, your stop can quickly escalate into an investigation for possible DUI if the officer believes he observes some of the common symptoms he is trained to look for in DUI investigations, such as red watery eyes, an odor of alcohol, or speech which he believes is impaired. None of these symptoms, in and of themselves or taken together, prove that a driver is, at that moment, driving while impaired or driving with .08% BAC (blood alcohol content).

When it comes to “field sobriety tests”, the label itself is misleading, as these exercises are not objective “tests” or reliable indicators of impairment for an umber of reasons. They are usually attempted under the most difficult of conditions, often by the side of the road, in poor lighting and/ or late at night, on an uneven surface and in footwear that could further compromise the results. As such, they are not true indicators of a person’s performance ability. Further, every person naturally has a different ability to perform these exercises, even with no alcohol in his or her system. Without the officer knowing how an individual would perform with no alcohol in his or her system, there is no “baseline performance” for comparison. In addition, the results of some of these “tests” can also be compromised by the errors or inattention of the officer administering the exercise. Some of the “tests” approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and given by law enforcement agencies have proven error rates of 1/3. In other words, they will incorrectly identify one in every three drivers as being eitheri mpaired or having a BAC above the legal limit – even when perfectly administered and evaluated by the officer.

Similarly, the results of either a breath or a blood test are open to question. There are a number of issues in the area of test results, including drinking pattern defenses, potential sample contamination/ preservation issues, whether the machine is erroneously reading mouth alcohol or interfering substances as opposed to alcohol in your system, the margin for error that affects every test result, and potential problems with the machine itself. A forensic toxicology specialist, often with extensive experience as a scientist in law enforcement agency crime labs, can provide the detailed insight you need into the scientific issues in your case, from critically examining the machine itself, to evaluating drinking pattern defenses such as “rising blood alcohol”, to exposing issues with your breath or blood test result, to dismantling the field sobriety “test” results.

At the Law Office of Jennifer Zide, we partner with an experienced forensic toxicology specialist to evaluate all the scientific issues in your DUI case.We thoroughly review the unique facts of your case, guide you through the court process and the legal issues, and make sure you get the best defense possible. We do what it takes to ease the burden imposed on you by a DUI charge in Santa Barbara or Ventura County. Through expert investigation, scientific defense, and unrelenting, impassioned advocacy, we have been able to get clients excellent results including:

  • DUI reduced to regular reckless driving (not “wet reckless”) in Santa Barbara County at the start of trial, resulting in reduced probation, reduced fines, a 12 hr. alcohol education class in lieu of a 3 month program, and NO DUI CONVICTION
  • Trial result of hung jury in favor of the defense and subsequent dismissal in .11/.12 DUI with an accident after leaving a bar
  • Dropped special allegations for alleged high blood alcohol content (BAC) resulting in shorter alcohol education classes
  • Credit for time served (no additional custody time) or reduced custody for high BAC Driving Under the Influence
  • Community service in lieu of custody in high BAC Driving Under the Influence

As the character Miles said about the pinot noir grape in “Sideways”, it takes time, dedication and care, and an understanding of the grape’s potential, to realize its full potential. The same is true to give you the best defense after an arrest for DUI in Santa Barbara or Ventura counties. At the Law Office of Jennifer Zide, we take care of our clients. We believe in and bring out the potential in your case by exposing all the areas of reasonable doubt. In every DUI case, we truly value you like that ’67 bottle of Cheval. We are dedicated to achieving the special “vintage” results our clients deserve. When you have questions about your DUI arrest in Santa Barbara or Ventura County, call the Law Office of Jennifer Zide at 805-901-5403 and visit our website. We are always on your side… even if you’re drinking merlot.

Disclaimer: Please be advised that none of the information offered above should be taken as a warranty or guarantee of the outcome of your particular case. Case results depend on many factors, among them the unique facts of each individual case.

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