Defining preliminary alcohol-screening tests

The common school of thought among many in Encino is that law enforcement officers cannot force them to do anything that they do not consent to. That assumption may be true in most cases, yet not when it applies to situations where one is suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. When one becomes licensed to drive in California, he or she essentially enters into a contract with the state that stipulates, in exchange for the privilege of driving, he or she agrees to submit to chemical testing to confirm whether or not he or she may be impaired. 

The terms of this contract (known legally as the “implied consent law”) can be found in Section 23612 of the California Vehicle Code. It classifies chemical testing as being a measurement of any of the following: 

  • Blood
  • Breath
  • Urine

When most think of a breath test, they often believe it to be those performed using the hand-held breathalyzer devices used by police when conducting a roadside sobreity screening. However, such screenings do not meet the standard of a chemical test. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, these roadside tests are referred to as preliminary alcohol-screenings. 

While a PAS test does measure the alcohol content of one’s breath, it differs from a chemical breath test in that the latter is performed in a controlled environment (typically a police station), thus eliminating the potential of external factors influencing the outcome. California’s implied consent law does allow one to refuse such a screening. In fact, the law stipulates that an officer must inform one suspected of DUI of his or her right to refuse a PAS test. A failure to do so could invalidate a result as evidence due to it being obtained illegally. 

New tests look for drugged drivers

Now that voters in California have decided that marijuana will be legal for recreational use, some lawmakers are trying to regulate what that means in relation to traffic safety. The Associated Press reports that three large California counties are piloting a testing program that uses a driver’s saliva to see if there are any drugs present in their system.

But everyone is not convinced that the test is conclusive. For example, at least one member of the California Highway Patrol believes that neither saliva or breath tests are accurate enough to use. For alcohol, any amount below .08 blood alcohol is legal. However, there is currently not a level deemed acceptable of any drug in a driver’s system, which means that the law has not yet determined what level constitutes driving while intoxicated. Despite these concerns, a judge in Kern County accepted the results of a saliva-based drug detection test as evidence in a case last year.

But drivers under the influence of drugs is a growing concern in the United States. In fact, according to The Atlantic, drugged driving has surpassed alcohol as the leading reason drivers die in an accident: 43 percent of fatal crashes had drivers with drugs in their system, compared to 37 percent who had blood alcohol levels above .08 percent. Prescription drug use while driving is also on the rise. A study found that 20 percent of drivers had taken some form of prescription drug in the past 48 hours. Law enforcement officers stress that all prescription drugs are not safe to take before getting behind the wheel: just because a drug comes from the doctor does not mean it can be taken before driving.

Why are California speeding tickets so expensive?

Millions of Americans have received and dealt with traffic citations, especially speeding tickets, that ended up crippling their wallets. Whether such pricey citations actually encourage drivers to reduce speeds is uncertain, but the amount of money violators must pay is a largely disputed topic. California has particularly costly speeding penalties, and while the law enforces equal penalties to speeding drivers, some experts claim that such tickets target poor residents and are spent toward unethical purposes.

According to LA Weekly, California’s state Legistlature has gradually increased fees in order to raise revenues without having to go through the obstacles of raising taxes. In fact, the article states that tickets of initially $100 can now cost up to $490 — three times the national average for a similar citation. On top of this crippling number, late fees for speeding tickets in the state are an extra $300. For the past 15 years, the Legislature has been using this source to increase revenue without having to pass new taxes, which in turn creates a regressive tax in its disproportionately affecting the poor.

Not only do expensive speeding tickets negatively affect a large majority of Californians; along with spiked insurance rates, an entire speeding incident can cost a driver almost $1,000. Improv Traffic School states that another reason for heightened ticket costs is due to emergency medical services and court construction assessments, which have caused California speeding ticket costs to quadruple since 1993. Improv also acknowledges that revenue generated from California traffic tickets have amounted to roughly $500 million per year. On top of public outrage, determining how much speeding tickets cost can also be difficult, and depend greatly on state and court penalties, as well as assessments added to base fines.            



How to fight your traffic violation ticket in court

Are you a person with strong principles who believes in taking a stand and fighting for your rights when you have been falsely accused? Or are you more likely to choose the path of least resistance to close the books on an incident?

If you see yourself more as the former and less of the latter, it may be worthwhile for you to fight back in court against your traffic violation.

The courts count on far more drivers choosing to simply pay their traffic tickets rather than spending the better part of a day tied up in court. But remember that you have the right to defend yourself or to hire an attorney who will handle your traffic violation defense for you.

Effective defenses require a clear understanding of the law

Look up the statute that the officer accused you of violating. Read it over carefully and break it down into words and brief phrases to make sure that all apply in your case.

Remember that little words like “shall” and “may” can have a major outcome on the success of your defense. From a purely legal standpoint, “shall” is a synonym for “is required to” while “may” expresses possibility or permission. That interpretation alone could be enough to get a ticket dropped in some cases.

Tipping the odds in your favor

There are small, perfectly legal steps that you can take to give yourself a slight advantage over the police officer and prosecutor. First, if you plan to fight it in court, never pay it first. It’s an admission of guilt.

Your traffic violation ticket will likely have a court date set already. Typically this will be about four to six weeks from the date of the alleged offense. Wait a couple of weeks and then call the court and explain that you have a scheduling conflict that day and politely request a new court date. The scheduling officer is not required to grant this, but polite requests are usually accommodated.

If you have any options for the rescheduled appearance, choose a date closest to a major holiday when the officer is likely to be taking a vacation day and has no inclination to return to court for your ticket. If he or she is a no-show, your ticket will get dismissed.

Don’t waive your rights to a speedy trial

There is a form that the court typically requests all defendants sign, but under the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, defendants cannot be compelled to waive this right. The dockets are crowded and it may be impossible for the court to hear your case before the 45 days (the length of time California defines as “a speedy” trial) have lapsed. This, too, can result in the traffic violation being dismissed.

Spot any errors on the ticket

The court recognizes the difference between minor errors like misspelling a defendant’s name or something similar, and egregious mistakes like citing the wrong statute entirely. That alone may be enough to warrant a dismissal of your charge.

You may not feel confident in your ability to challenge your ticket alone — that’s okay. Retaining a traffic ticket defense attorney may, in some instances, turn the tide in your favor.

New California law prevents driver’s license suspensions

On June 27, 2017, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed a bill that will provide protection from driver’s license suspensions for individuals with unpaid fines, according to the Associated Press. Under the new law, the courts will not be able to suspend a person’s driver’s license for unpaid fines incurred through certain traffic infractions. The provisions will not apply to persons whose licenses are already suspended. Proponents of the new law reason that the suspension of a driver’s license for unpaid fines is an inefficient means of obtaining payment for fees because it undermines an individual’s ability to drive to work without breaking the law. Put simply, according to supporters, the new law is designed to avoid punishing people for being poor. Nonetheless, failure to appear in court may still cause a person to incur additional fines and be subject to license suspension.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Californians have faced an increase in overall penalties through additional fees, assessments and surcharges imposed by the legislature: “A $35 ticket for failing to signal a lane change actually costs $238. This goes a long way toward explaining why, as of March, 488,000 Californians had suspended licenses.” The hope for some is that the recently passed bill will help to alleviate some of that burden.

Traffic law is a subset of criminal law in California. As such, a person charged with a traffic infraction should be aware that he or she can plead not guilty and request a jury trial in writing, by mail. Doing so may help a person avoid being subject to suspension for failure to appear in court, as well as additional fines.