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California Legislator Alleges Constitutional Violation in DUI Stop

On March 27, 2012, police arrested Assemblyman Roger Hernández or suspicion of driving under the influence after they stopped him for allegedly weaving in his lane. Hernández claimed that police violated his constitutional rights during the stop and asked the judge in his case to throw out all of the evidence police collected after the supposed constitutional violation.

Acquitted of DUI Charges

Hernàndez told officers that he had only two glasses of wine over a period of five hours before he was arrested. A blood test showed a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent. Hernàndez filed documents with the court alleging that the traffic stop was unreasonable. As a result, Hernàndez argued, the blood test, the statements he made and the observations of the arresting officers should all be inadmissible.

The judge allowed the evidence to be used at trial. However, a jury acquitted Hernàndez of the charges against him after he successfully cast doubt on the way that the lab processed the blood test.

Probable Cause and Reasonable Suspicion

As the Hernàndez case illustrates, California drivers should be aware of the constitutional requirements for search and seizure and the implications those requirements have for DUI stops. Police officers need to have a "reasonable suspicion" that a crime has been committed in order to detain a person for a short period of time for the purposes of a limited investigation. This means that in order for a police officer to stop a motorist for suspicion of DUI, the officer needs to have some basis for believing that the driver is intoxicated, such as:

  • Weaving within a lane
  • Drifting into other lanes
  • Crossing a center line into oncoming traffic
  • Hitting other vehicles or objects
  • Erratic speeds or unnecessary braking

In terms of a DUI stop, the limited investigation usually involves the officer administering field sobriety tests. During these tests the officer will be looking for evidence of intoxication necessary to meet the higher standard of "probable cause" to believe that a person committed a crime. Probable cause is required in order for police to make an arrest.

If the officer lacked either a reasonable suspicion for the stop or probable cause for an arrest, a motorist can challenge the charges in the manner Hernàndez did.

Talk to an Attorney

DUI charges are serious matters. Authorities will not hesitate to prosecute such cases to the fullest extent possible, and the penalties for even a first DUI conviction in California can be severe. If you are facing DUI charges, do not hesitate to contact an experienced DUI defense lawyer who can assess your situation and help craft the strongest defense for your case possible.

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