When a driver sees flashing lights, they may be wondering what it was that caused the police to stop them. Many drivers automatically suspect they were speeding or rolled through a stop sign, some of the most common traffic violations that we see every day on the streets of the East Bay. Whatever the reason for a traffic stop, the police do need to have a reason to pull someone over.
Just about any traffic violation, from speeding to having a broken tail light could give the police justification to pull the driver over. In some cases, the traffic violation is not the biggest concern for drivers. The driver may be suspected of a more serious offense, like driving under the influence.
Unfortunately, drivers facing a DUI can't always rely on the police officer's justification for making a traffic stop. An unwarranted stop could be a violation of the driver's rights. Contact an experienced California DUI defense lawyer in Alameda or Contra Costa County who can explain your rights and legal defense options if the police made an unlawful traffic stop.
Failure to Signal
Failure to signal is not the only reason a police officer may pull a driver over. This is just used as an example of how the police can generally use any traffic violation to justify a stop. Under California Vehicle Code 22108, “any signal of intention to turn right or left shall be given continuously during the last 100 feet traveled by the vehicle before turning.”
Failure to use a signal before making a turn is subject to a fine and a point on the driver's record.
Minor Traffic Violations and Vehicle Stops in California
Any number of traffic violations can be used for a vehicle stop in California. There are traffic laws that some drivers may not even be aware of but that generally won't excuse the driver from following California vehicle codes. Examples of minor traffic violations that the police can use to pull you over include:
- Rolling through a stop sign
- Driving without headlights at night
- Throwing litter on the highway
- Failure to yield to pedestrians
- High beam headlight violation
- Seat belt violation
- Unsafe passing on the right
- Failure to yield to emergency vehicles
- Loud exhaust system violations
- Obstructed license plate
- Broken tail light
Many drivers think they should not be pulled over for these minor violations. However, any vehicle violation may give the police department justification for making a traffic stop. During the traffic stop and brief detention, the police may look for other evidence of more serious violations.
How Long Can the Police Stop You for a Minor Violation?
Inquiry into the vehicle violation is enough for the police to briefly detain a vehicle and occupants. However, a traffic stop can only be initiated for a brief period. The officer may ask for your license, registration, and proof of insurance. If you don't have a driver's license or insurance or are driving on a suspended license, that may be an additional violation.
During a traffic stop, the officer may also try to engage in what seems like small talk. This could include questions like:
- Do you know why I pulled you over?
- Where are you headed tonight?
- Have you been drinking?
You generally have the right to remain silent, as protected by the Fifth Amendment constitutional right against self-incrimination. You can say nothing at all to the police, including not answering the officer's questions. However, you should not intentionally lie to the police. Lying to the police could be used against you in court.
Probable Cause of Drinking and Driving
During a traffic stop, the police may look for any indication that the driver may be impaired. While most DUI arrests occur in the evening or early mornings, a police officer making a traffic stop could look for signs of alcohol use during the middle of a workday. Signs and evidence of possible drug or alcohol use may include:
- Smell of alcohol on the driver's breath
- Smell of drugs
- Visual evidence of alcohol or drugs inside the vehicle
- Slurred speech
- Blood-shot eyes
- Admitting to drinking
If the police officer then has probable cause that the driver may be impaired, the police can detain the driver and make an arrest. However, even before making the arrest, the police officer may try and gather additional evidence of impairment, including getting a breath test and having the driver perform field sobriety tests.
Breath Tests and Field Sobriety Tests
The police officer may not need field sobriety tests or breath test results to have probable cause to make an arrest. However, it can add to the officer's probable cause to justify making the arrest. It is important to know that field sobriety tests and roadside breath tests are not required for most California drivers. These tests are voluntary, even if the officer makes it seem like you should comply.
A roadside breath test is known as a preliminary alcohol screening device (PAS) in California. Most drivers are not required to give breath tests on the side of the road and only have to give a chemical test sample when arrested for a DUI. Some drivers, including drivers under the age of 21, commercial drivers, and drivers on probation for a DUI, may be required to give a breath test as part of a traffic stop if suspected of drinking.
Standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) are supposed to give the police probable cause to make an arrest for suspicion of drunk driving. However, SFSTs are not always accurate. Field sobriety tests are not mandatory in California traffic stops.
After a Drunk Driving Arrest in the East Bay California
Just because the police claimed you failed to signal does not mean that you should be convicted of a DUI. Your East Bay DUI defense attorney can challenge the police officer's initial traffic stop and the DUI charges.
East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 39 years of DUI defense experience and understands the consequences for drivers after an arrest for driving under the influence. Representing individuals in Contra Costa and Alameda County, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local DUI defense laws, local officers, and the prosecutors involved. Contact East Bay DUI lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.