If you’re driving in a way that makes a California law enforcement officer believe you’re impaired, you may be pulled over. Counties are stepping up DUI checkpoints throughout the state of California. At a checkpoint, you’re evaluated to make sure you aren’t too drunk or drugged to be behind the wheel.
There are three things you should understand if you’re asked to submit to a test when detained or pulled aside at a DUI checkpoint. Here’s what you need to know.
Registered Californians Agree to Chemical Testing
In California, drivers agree to chemical tests (when under suspicion of DUI) as a condition of receiving their licenses, which gives implied consent to law enforcement.
The chemical tests administered are designed to prove whether or not there are drugs or alcohol in a driver’s system.
The officer is required to offer you the choice of a blood or breath test. If an officer’s breathalyzer machine is broken, you must submit to the blood test, and vice versa. If you can’t physically do one of the tests, you must do the other test.
The only situations when a urine test is allowed for a DUI screen are when:
- Blood and breath tests are unavailable
- No trained personnel are available
- You are taking anti-coagulants
- You have a heart condition
Unless one of the above conditions exist, you can’t request a urine test. When officers can’t perform breathalyzer or blood tests, you must submit to a urine test according to the law.
Allowable Blood Alcohol Levels Depend on the Driver
Chemical tests are admissible as evidence against you when taken up to three hours after you’ve been driving. Tests can include preliminary alcohol screening (PAC) tests done at the roadside and blood tests drawn in a medical facility.
A PAC may show no impairment, but submitting to the PAC doesn’t relieve you of the obligation to comply with the more invasive blood test if the administering officer still believes you are impaired.
If you’re over 21 years of age, you’re considered impaired when your blood alcohol content (BAC) measures 0.08 percent or more. Unless you’re enrolled in approved narcotics treatment, you’re considered impaired if you’re addicted to the use of any drug or under the influence of any drug.
You’re considered impaired with a BAC of 0.04 percent if you’re operating a commercial vehicle. This includes driving trucks, construction vehicles, semis, taxis and buses. If you carry a “person for hire” while driving for one of the app-based taxi services, you’re in this category, too.
California has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking. If you are under 21, you can have your license suspended for one year for test results that show a BAC of only 0.01 percent.
Courts Are Reviewing the Legality of Forced Tests
Courts in California haven’t always held up your right to choose between the two primary chemical tests when stopped for a suspected DUI. Even if you weren’t allowed to choose, some judges may admit evidence from a forced test. You also face stiffer penalties if you refuse any tests at all.
Blood has been taken without warrants from unconscious suspects in California, including from a Santa Clara man who was not able to convince the courts to suppress the evidence against him. Under state law, there are no exceptions to the implied consent laws – even when you’re unconscious or dead.
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that criminalizing the refusal to submit to BAC and other DUI tests is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Under the Fourth Amendment, warrantless tests are not permissible. The Santa Clara man’s case is under review for a possible Supreme Court decision. Hopefully, the courts will settle questions over the constitutionality of California’s DUI laws.
You don’t have a right to have your attorney at your initial blood test, but you do have the right to have follow-up tests of your own conducted. Contact the law offices of SW Smyth LLP as soon as possible after any impaired driving charges. Our office works to retain and restore driving privileges and fight for all of your rights in court.