San Diego DUI Defenses: Bad traffic stop

Challenging a Traffic Stop in Your San Diego DUI Case

SD DUI LawyerSan Diego DUI Lawyer
In order to stop a motorist, officers must have observed a traffic violation or have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.  In order to place someone under arrest for DUI, the officer must have probable cause.  If you know and understand your rights as they relate to a DUI investigation, you can go a long way in preventing these from happening.  Some important steps in avoiding traffic stops are to keep your vehicle current with registration and maintenance.  An outdated registration sticker, broken tail light, tinted windows, modified exhaust or obstructed license plate can justify an otherwise impermissible traffic stop.  All of this before any bad driving is exhibited.  While driving, it is important to mind the lines separating lanes of traffic and maintain the lane.  All lane changes and turns should be signaled, and traffic signs must be closely observed.  Speeding and swerving are the two main causes for traffic stops leading to DUI arrests.  Additionally, with a greater emphasis on discouraging "distracted" driving, it is certainly wise to avoid using your phone or other electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle.  In addition to being dangerous, this can draw negative attention from police, and justify a traffic stop.

After a traffic stop, a police officer has a long way to go before he or she can meet the probable cause burden needed for arrest.  After the officer observes questionable driving, especially during late evening hours and on weekends, they will be on alert for possible drunk driving.  Some of the signs they will look for are: (1) odor of alcohol (or marijuana), (2) flushed complexion, (3) bloodshot, watery eyes, and (4) slurred speech.  The officer is making these observations before asking a driver to step out and comply with field sobriety tests, and often prior to any questions about alcohol or drugs.  Drivers who have consumed safe levels of alcohol or other substances can protect themselves from arrest by taking note of what the officers are looking for and take steps to avoid showing these symptoms.  Food and non-alcoholic beverages can mask the odors of alcohol, while hand-washing and changing clothes can eliminate burnt marijuana odors. 

In the event that an officer is suspicious of DUI, they will likely ask a driver to answer a series of questions and perform field sobriety tests.  These steps are how the officer builds evidence against a driver.  The officer has likely already determined in his/her mind that the driver is intoxicated.  Asking questions about drinking and having you hop around like a game of Simon Says is NOT to determine whether you are impaired, but to .  These are VOLUNTARY, and it is important that you do not give them the additional evidence they are fishing for.  Not cooperating with a DUI investigation may render the evidence insufficient to justify an arrest.  Without a PAS result, field sobriety tests or admissions of drinking, it may be argued that the officer did not have probable cause, especially if the driver drove carefully, did not smell of alcohol and did not exhibit bloodshot eyes or slurred speech.  Nevertheless, many of these observations, on their own, can be explained by innocent conduct.  For example, fatigue may cause bloodshot eyes or slurred speech and drinking a small amount of alcohol before driving (not against the law) can cause an odor of alcohol. 

In court, your lawyer can challenge a traffic stop by arguing that the officer lacked justification to stop you.  Many times, there will be dashboard video from the patrol car, or even surveillance footage from nearby cameras.  Every fast food restaurant, ATM, gas station, etc. will be equipped with cameras, and some of them may capture your good driving pattern, in contrast to the officer's claim that you violated a traffic law or swerved.  While the government will not take the time to seek out such video footage, your experienced San Diego DUI Lawyer should consider looking for objective evidence that contradicts the officer's report.  There is also some favorable case-law that DUI defense attorneys can use in a motion to suppress evidence (PC 1538.5 motion).  For example, in US v. Colin, the courts determined that touching a dotted line, but not crossing it, does not justify a traffic stop.  Discuss your stop with your attorney.  If you believe that you were not driving in such a way to justify a traffic stop, your lawyer may be able to get the evidence excluded in court and your charges dismissed.  This can be one of the most effective DUI defense strategies because it makes the whole case go away.  This defense can also be asserted at a DMV hearing to protect your driver's license.

When there is a lawful traffic stop or a stop at a lawful DUI checkpoint, there may be an opportunity to get evidence thrown out by challenging the officer's ability to make a lawful arrest.  The officer must have probable cause in order to place someone under arrest for DUI.  The less evidence the officer has, the better the argument the defendant has to exclude any evidence found as a result of the arrest.  Not exhibiting the symptoms of alcohol impairment discussed above is extremely important.  Not cooperating with the DUI investigation by declining to answer questions, perform field sobriety tests, and declining to blow into the PAS device substantially limits the evidence that is available to a police officer and makes an arrest questionable, and possibly subject to suppression.

OTHER COMMON DUI DEFENSES INCLUDERising BAC, Mouth Alcohol, Medical Conditions, Field Sobriety Tests, Driving Pattern, Testing Accuracy and Did Police Follow Proper Procedure?


If you or a loved one has been arrested or charged with DUI in San Diego, you can expect aggressive prosecution by the San Diego City Attorney's Office or San Diego District Attorney's Office.  DUI has become a major focal point of law enforcement agencies throughout the country, especially in California.  San Diego drivers face 5 years of probation, fines of around $2000, DUI classes, loss of driver's license and a criminal conviction for a first offense.  Subsequent offenses will carry mandatory jail time, longer alcohol classes, and longer driver's license suspensions.  Whether you are being charged with a first time DUI, DUI with a prior, DUI drugs or felony DUI, our office can attack your case the right way and assert your best defenses to get you the best possible result.  Contact the Law Offices of Nicholas Loncar now for a Free Consultation.

Nicholas M. Loncar, Esq.
San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney
San Diego DUI Lawyer
By Nicholas Loncar        


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