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Can I Become a Police Officer With a DUI?

Police officers in California are tasked with enforcing criminal laws and other traffic violations. Law enforcement officers, including cops, sheriff's deputies, and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) are generally on the front lines when stopping and arresting someone for committing a crime. If you want to be a cop in California, the good news is that a drunk driving conviction won't necessarily disqualify you from getting a job with the police department.   

Of course, if you never get a conviction, you will be a better candidate. If you are arrested for drunk driving or other criminal offenses in the East Bay, you can fight the charges to keep them off your record. If you are arrested in Oakland or the East Bay and don't want to end up with a criminal record, call an experienced East Bay DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible. 

What Criminal Charges Can Disqualify You From Police Department Jobs?

Some criminal offenses will disqualify an applicant from getting a job with the police. However, some law enforcement departments may have different policies. There may be different restrictions in different cities, counties, and states. However, some disqualifiers may include:

Applicants may also be disqualified for lying on their personal history application. If you are going to apply for a job as a cop, don't lie about your past arrests and convictions. A standard background check will turn up your criminal history. Failing to disclose a drunk driving conviction will generally be more harmful than the DUI itself. 

Factors in Considering Past Criminal Records

When applying for a job as a police officer, police department officials will generally look at the applicant's history in context. These factors can impact the weight the hiring committee places on offenses in the past, including:

  • Age at the time of the offense
  • How much time has passed
  • Is there a pattern of behavior
  • How severe was the offense
  • Relevance to public safety position
  • Aggravating and mitigating factors

For example, an under-21 DUI 20 years ago, with no traffic accident, no other violations, and seeking substance abuse counseling immediately after would likely not stop the applicant from being hired. 

Alternatively, 3 prior DUIs over the past 10 years, including a high-BAC offense, and two reckless driving offenses may make the hiring committee think twice about letting the applicant put on a uniform and carry a gun. 

What Happens When a Police Officer Is Arrested for Drunk Driving?

According to a study by the Department of Justice, a review of police officers arrested for alcohol-related crimes found that in agencies with under 100 personnel, the officer lost their jobs in less than 45% of cases. In larger agencies with more than 100 personnel, officers lost their jobs in less than 30% of cases.

There seems to be a double standard when it comes to police officers and drunk driving. There are plenty of news stories about police officers who were arrested for driving under the influence (DUI), only to find out they returned to their jobs with only a warning or being put on paid leave. 

It sure doesn't seem fair when those same police officers don't give the same consideration when they arrest other drivers who may have had one too many. However, what happens when a police officer is arrested for drunk driving depends on the situation. According to the DOJ study, only about 1/3rd of alcohol-related DUI arrests for officers resulted in a criminal conviction. 

Police officers are often advised to get a DUI defense lawyer to handle the criminal arrest. This might be a clue to you that you should do the same thing. An experienced drunk driving defense attorney understands California drunk driving cases and how to build a strong defense. Like a police officer, with a DUI defense attorney on your side, you have a good chance of reducing the criminal charges to avoid the most serious penalties

Discipline for Police After a DUI

After an arrest, the police officer will usually undergo an internal investigation. Consequences of the drunk driving conviction could include suspension, paid or unpaid leave, a probationary period, substance abuse counseling, or losing their job. 

According to the DOJ study, in more than 20% of officer DUI arrests, there were no adverse employment outcomes. Involuntary termination only happened about 14% of the time. 

The disciplinary process for a police officer after they are arrested for a DUI can depend on several factors, including:

  • Individual police department policy
  • Facts surrounding the arrest
  • Prior disciplinary history
  • Amount of alcohol (high BAC)
  • Injuries or accidents
  • On-duty or off-duty at the time

Police Officer Discipline Is Often Behind Closed Doors

One of the reasons it is difficult to say what consequences might follow a drunk driving arrest for cops is that a lot of what happens goes on behind closed doors. Police groups are often secretive about their policies, following the "blue wall of silence." They may claim they are doing an investigation or taking action without ever making the results public. 

What Can I Do After a Drunk Driving Arrest in the East Bay?

If you are a police officer, want to be a police officer, or are worried about what a drunk driving arrest will mean for your job, get advice from an experienced DUI defense attorney. Your lawyer can advise you on your legal options, help you build a strong defense, and work to help you keep the DUI off your criminal record. 

An experienced California DUI defense lawyer understands how to evaluate a case to find the greatest strengths. Find an East Bay trial attorney who has a record of success defending drivers charged with drunk driving. If you got a DUI in Oakland or Alameda County, call attorney Lynn Gorelick at 510-785-1444 or 925-847-3006. 

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