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From Traffic Stop to DUI Arrest: A Five Part Series

The goal of this series is to empower people through information about a DUI stop and arrest in Ventura County. Why, you may ask, before we get into the details? Because, at the Law Office of Jennifer Zide in Ventura, we care about your rights and your freedom in dealing with the police, the prosecution, and any government authority. A DUI arrest is one of the most common in Ventura County. It imposes a heavy burden on the individual, from potential for heavy fines and fees, to performance in a required program, to jail time and probation. Simply because you have been arrested on a charge of DUI in Ventura County does not mean that the state will be able to prove the case against you. An arrest is just one step on the road; it is not the end of the road. Our system of Constitutional criminal justice is founded on a unique belief in the freedom of the individual. To that end, codified in our Constitutional rights and in our adversarial system which allows for advocacy and for questioning of authority, is the belief that we, as individuals, are valued and empowered. Our rights are protected also not by one lone judge, but by a panel of our fellow citizens from outside the system, who assemble to put the state’s case to the test. Our courtrooms reflect our values that every person is to be seen as an individual, that his or her rights are to be protected, and that the state must be held to a high burden in every case, known as proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

How does a stop for something as simple and run of the mill as speeding, or not signaling that one time before you turned, or coming to a “California” stop (which is more of a slow slide, with just a nod to a stop), become a DUI arrest in 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. Once the officer has a legal right to stop you – which can be based on an offense that is only a traffic infraction – the officer is in the position to and has the opportunity to make other observations of a driver: are you fumbling in handing over your information, do you have an odor of alcohol on your breath, do you seem to be slurring your words, do you seem confused. The list goes on. Cumulatively, this information can catapult a simple traffic infraction into a DUI arrest. It’s important to keep in mind that the officer is looking at every interaction through the lens of gathering information that could point to a person’s guilt, not in a way that gives a driver the benefit of the doubt or from the point of view that there could be innocent explanations for the same observations. For example, red, watery eyes could be the result of allergies, or being up late at night. Similarly, some difficulty balancing at one point on a roadside exercise could be the result of every person’s unique, individualized balance and abilities to perform, compounded by factors such as a driver being tired, or nervous, or confused, or being forced to perform these “tests” under far from ideal conditions, often by the side of the road and late at night. As the officer interacts with any driver, even someone stopped for something as minimal as speeding, the officer is looking for signs of possible impairment or driving with a blood alcohol content that is above the legal limit. He is looking to build his case. However, all of these areas are open to interpretation, alternative view, further analysis, and the defense ability to attack and dismantle the case against you.

In this series, we will be taking a look at the five main areas for officer examination and defense challenge in any DUI investigation in order to educate and to empower our clients. Every case must meet not just the “test” of officer suspicion after that point when the case is filed in court; now, the charges will be held to a higher “test” which is proof beyond a reasonable doubt
1. the driving pattern observed/ basis for stop;
2. the so-called “objective” signs and symptoms, and other officer-alleged indicia, of impairment or blood alcohol content;
3. the nature of the information that the officer is able to gather from the suspect;
4. the driver’s alleged performance on roadside exercises labeled by law enforcement “field sobriety tests;”
5. the results of any tests on breath or blood samples obtained from the driver, ranging from Preliminary Alcohol Screening (so-called PAS) breath test results to the results of the final breath or blood test.

1. Driving Pattern Observed/ Basis for Stop:
Why were you stopped? This could be for something as minimal as speeding, or for a driving pattern that the officer believes to be a clue that you are driving above the legal limit or driving while impaired. An officer does not have to have a reasonable suspicion that you are driving above .08% Blood Alcohol Content in order to stop you; however, the officer does need a legal basis to stop you in order to be in a position to legally make observations that build up to a DUI arrest. Some types of driving, such as speeding, do not necessarily indicate impairment. However, once the officer is in position, if he can make observations to support another charge against you, he will. If your stop is not legal, or the driving involved does not support impairment, those are positive aspects in your case. Further, even a driving pattern that, at first blush, might support impairment, can be explained later as having an innocent cause.

I will be posting in this series in the future. Please stay tuned for future installments. If you have a friend or a loved one in need of advice in a DUI case in Ventura County, we are here to help at the Law Office of Jennifer Zide. Contact us today to discuss the details of your individual case at (805) 901-5403 or visit our website at www.Zidelaw.com

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