What’s the best way to deal with being stopped by law enforcement officers while you’re driving in Southern California?

If you are stopped in traffic by the police for suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI), you may be asked to take a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) breath test.

What is a PAS test and what is its purpose? Can the results be used against you in court? Are you required to take a PAS test on a police officer’s request?

WHAT SHOULD DRIVERS KNOW ABOUT DUI TESTS?

Here’s what is important to understand about DUI tests. If you have been placed under arrest, and you are asked to take a breath, blood, or urine test for DUI, you are required by law to submit to that test.

And when you are formally arrested for DUI – whether or not you’ve taken a PAS test prior to the arrest – California has what is called an “implied consent” rule that will automatically take effect.

Implied consent means that simply by driving in California, a driver has already implied his or her consent to a DUI test after being arrested.

If you refuse to be tested after you are in custody, your California driver’s license can be suspended for a year. If you have any previous DUI convictions, the suspension period will be lengthier.

BEFORE AN ARREST, DO YOU HAVE TO TAKE A PAS TEST?

However, if you have simply been stopped by the police, and you have not been formally placed in custody, you are not required to submit to a preliminary alcohol screening breath test unless you are under 21 years of age or you are on probation for a prior DUI conviction.

If you agree to a PAS test, the test results may be used against you in court – if you are arrested and charged with driving under the influence.

Most DUI attorneys in California would recommend that if you are over 21 and you are not on probation for DUI, you should politely decline to take a preliminary alcohol screening test. That is your legal right.

However, California drivers should also understand that a DUI arrest can be made whether or not a PAS test is administered.

WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY ABOUT PAS TESTS?

Under California law, a police officer is required to tell you that a PAS test is optional.

Most police agencies in California use hand-held breathalyzer devices to conduct PAS tests. These devices are widely-known to be unreliable, which is one reason why a second test is usually conducted after a DUI arrest.

In Los Angeles County, police officers have started using saliva swabs rather than breathalyzers for preliminary DUI tests. As of 2018, these swab tests cannot be introduced as evidence in a criminal DUI case.

For the arresting officer, the PAS test is simply a tool that can provide evidence. Of course, in some cases, if you refuse to take a PAS test, the officer may interpret your refusal itself as an indication of guilt, and you may be arrested anyway.

The bottom line is that a police officer has the discretion to arrest you if the officer believes that you are too impaired to drive. A PAS test simply provides the officer with additional evidence.

WHO IS REQUIRED TO TAKE A PAS TEST?

From a California driver’s perspective, if that driver is 21 or older and not on probation for DUI, the type of test being administered is less important than whether the test is conducted pre-arrest or post-arrest.

If you are under 21 or serving probation for a previous DUI conviction, you may not refuse to take a PAS test. If you refuse and you are under 21, your driver’s license can be suspended for a year.

If you are serving probation for DUI, and you refuse to take a PAS test, your driver’s license can be suspended for one to three years.

HOW DO PAS TESTS WORK?

When alcohol is consumed, most of it passes into the bloodstream, but a small amount reaches the lungs and mixes with our breath. Alcohol in the breath is what is tested by a breathalyzer device.

If you are arrested for DUI, and you’re asked to take a DUI test after the arrest, you should ask to take a blood test rather than a breathalyzer test. You have that right, and many California police agencies make blood testing equipment available for precisely this purpose.

Why should you prefer a blood test to a breath test? Breath tests do not directly measure blood alcohol content levels. Instead, a breathalyzer device estimates a driver’s blood alcohol content level based on the amount of alcohol in the breath. Blood tests are considered more reliable.

WHAT ARE THE RULES REGARDING BREATHALYZER TESTS?

Breathalyzer tests conducted on drivers after DUI arrests in California are governed by a number of standards and regulations.

Breathalyzer devices must be properly and routinely maintained, and the officers who conduct breathalyzer exams must be formally trained and must follow strict testing procedures.

PAS tests at traffic stops, however, are not subject to these regulations.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO WHEN YOU ARE STOPPED BY THE POLICE?

So what’s the best way to handle being stopped by the police when you’re driving in southern California?

1. When flashing lights come on behind you, or when an officer appears alongside you and waves for you to stop, be as cooperative and pleasant as you can.

2. Let the officer see your hands at all times.

3. If you are asked for your license, registration, and proof of insurance, produce them.

After showing the necessary documents to the officer, you are not obligated to answer any questions, and in fact, you have the right to remain silent.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU ARE CHARGED WITH DUI?

If you are arrested in southern California for driving under the influence, take your case at once to an experienced Orange County DUI lawyer. Do not try to act as your own attorney. Too much will be at stake.

The penalties for a DUI conviction in this state are harsh, so you must reach out immediately after a DUI arrest for the legal help that you are going to need. That is your right.