When a police officer pulls you over and arrests you for drinking and driving in Oakland or the East Bay, it is usually not just a coincidence. Police officers in California go through specific training to evaluate, test, and process a DUI arrest in a way that most drivers end up pleading guilty instead of fighting the charges.
However, you do not have to plead guilty just because you were arrested for a DUI. If you contact an experienced DUI defense attorney, make sure they understand the type of training police officers use in field sobriety testing. Then your DUI lawyer will understand the best ways to approach the case to help you avoid a conviction and keep your license.
Drunk Driving Detection Training for California Police
Many police officers are trained using DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing. This training is provided in cooperation with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The SFST classes are generally given over a weekend at California Highway Patrol (CHP) or police department locations across the state.
According to SFST training, the DWI detection process is "the entire process of identifying and gathering evidence to determine whether or not a suspect should be arrested for a DWI violation." The detection process has 3 phases:
- Phase One – Vehicle In Motion
- Phase Two – Personal Contact
- Phase Three – Pre-arrest Screening
Vehicle In Motion Phase
The first phase of the DUI detection process is where the officer observes the vehicle involved, determines whether to stop the vehicle, and observes the vehicle pulling over to stop. The officer may also take a photo or video of the vehicle, especially if it is involved in an accident.
Questions the police officers consider at this phase include:
- What is the vehicle doing?
- Are there grounds to stop the vehicle?
- How does the driver respond to police lights and signals to stop?
- How does the driver handle stopping the vehicle?
Personal Contact Phase
The second phase of DUI detection is the personal contact phase. In this phase, the officer observes the driver face-to-face and interviews the driver. The officer determines whether to ask the driver to step out of the vehicle and observes the driver exiting the vehicle and walking.
Questions the police officers consider at this phase include:
- What does the officer see when approaching the vehicle?
- What does the officer hear, see, and smell when talking to the driver?
- How does the driver respond to questions?
- How does the driver exit?
- How does the driver walk toward the side of the road?
Pre-Arrest Screening Phase
The third phase of DUI detection is the pre-arrest screening. This is like gathering evidence to use to justify an arrest. The officer administers field sobriety tests (if the driver agrees to perform the tests), and observes the tests, to determine whether there is probable cause to make an arrest. The officer may also want to administer a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) device test.
Questions the police officer considers at this phase include:
- How does the driver perform field sobriety tests?
- What did the driver do wrong when performing the SFSTs?
- Is there probable cause to make an arrest for a DUI?
- What are the results of the PAS breath test?
Observations and Note-Taking
Police officers will generally make notes during or immediately after a DUI arrest. These field notes are often brief and not detailed accounts. However, the officer may use the brief notes to later write up more expansive notes in the arrest report. Unfortunately, the expansive notes may not quite match up with the field notes because observations are short-lived and can be lost over relatively short periods of time.
The SFST training emphasizes the importance of note-taking as preparation for court testimony. Officers will often use "clear and convincing language" to communicate with the prosecutor, judge, and jury, to paint a picture of what the officer saw, heard, and smelled.
For example, instead of writing down a driver was "driving erratically," the officer may write "crossed the centerline twice, weaved from side to side, and crossed over driving on the shoulder twice."
Police training focuses on the importance of getting enough information to show reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop and probable cause to make an arrest. According to NHTSA training, "Officers with the knowledge, skills and motivation to select the most appropriate words for both written reports and courtroom testimony will communicate clearly and convincingly, making them more successful in DWI prosecution."
Even before your court hearing, police officers will generally prepare for testimony with the prosecutor. Courtroom testimony preparation includes:
- Reviewing field notes and incident reports
- Reviewing other evidence, including dash cam footage
- Addressing each element of the offense
- Identify potential issues and decide how to address those
- Discuss the case with the prosecutor
How Can Your DUI Defense Attorney Use Training for Your Case?
It is important for your California DUI defense lawyer to understand how police are trained and how they conduct DUI traffic stops to understand where to find the strengths and weaknesses of your case. Your attorney can get a copy of your investigation and police report to identify ways to strengthen your defense. Your attorney can also use their training and experience to negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce the charges or get your case plead down to a reckless driving charge or, in some instances, dismissed.
Attorney Lynn Gorelick holds certifications in PAS breath testing devices, the NHTSA's standardized field sobriety tests, and even blood analysis training. Together, this training gives Lynn the information to challenge breath tests, field sobriety testing, and even chemical blood tests.
When your attorney understands the DUI detection process, they can challenge the prosecutor's evidence to get it suppressed or kept out of court. Your attorney can also question the arresting officers to identify problems with their testimony, including raising questions and inconsistencies.
Call an East Bay DUI Defense Lawyer After a DUI Arrest
Lynn Gorelick has more than 39 years of East Bay DUI defense experience and understands the challenges facing drivers arrested for a DUI in California. Before you give up and plead guilty get experienced legal advice to see how you can avoid a criminal record. If you are facing DUI charges anywhere in Oakland, Alameda County, or Contra Costa County, contact attorney Lynn Gorelick.