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How Orange County police officers determine probable cause
Before a police officer anywhere in Orange County can charge you with a DUI, the officer must first establish probable cause to arrest you. Probable cause means that the police can articulate criminal activity – in other words, you are about to commit, are in the process of committing, or have already committed some sort of crime, and the police have some facts to prove it.
Police officers usually establish probable cause for DUI by conducting standardized field sobriety tests. (SFTS). The observational evidence from such tests will permit an officer to arrest you and take you into custody for further investigation.
A police officer will typically first pull you over if you violate any traffic law. With over 10,000 vehicle codes in California, it is often not hard to find a violation if a police officer follows you long enough. For example, say you are swerving back-and-forth between lanes without using your blinker. The officer can pull you over for that and conduct an initial traffic violation to investigate your conduct.
Upon initial investigation, the officer will take note of certain signs that possibly indicate alcohol or drug impairment, which is the first step towards a DUI. Typically, an officer will observe bloodshot, watery eyes, an odor of alcohol on your breath, or an unsteady gait.
The officer may ask you where you are driving from. If you say a bar, then the officer will continue to question you about drinking and timing to determine whether or not you are possibly intoxicated. Next, the officer will request for you to perform a series of field sobriety tests.
How Field Sobriety Test Results Determine Probable Cause
Field sobriety tests are used by the officer to determine whether or not you are impaired. There are four standardized tests that are often used to show some level of impairment based on performance:
The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test;
The Walk-and-Turn Test;
One-Leg Stand Test; and in some cases,
The Rhomberg Test.
If you fail the required number of “clues” of alcohol intoxication for the three tests, police officers can establish probable cause to arrest you. The probable cause is that they believe that you failed the tests because you are impaired (leading to the conclusion that you were previously driving under the influence of alcohol, or drugs, or both).
You may also be requested to take a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test prior to the arrest. If you blow above the .08% legal limit, then you will be arrested and taken into police custody for further investigation. In Orange County, as it the rest of California, an officer may rely on the results of the PBT by itself to establish probable cause to arrest you for operating while intoxicated or visibly impaired.
Under California’s implied consent law, you will be offered a chemical test (breath, urine or blood) after being arrested to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC). If the chemical test detects alcohol in your system above the .08% legal limit, then you may be charged with operating a motor vehicle while above the legal limit, or driving under the influence (DUI), depending on your blood alcohol content level. If it is above .15%, you will be charged with High BAC (an elevated alcohol level) and face enhanced penalties and sentencing if convicted.