Understanding the DUI Booking Process in a California Police Station

DUI Arrest in California

Last Updated on April 27, 2024 by DALA Staff Writer

Navigating the Initial Steps of a DUI Arrest in California

Driving in California might sometimes end unexpectedly if you’re stopped by police under suspicion of DUI. This scenario is more common than you might think and understanding the legal process that unfolds can dramatically influence how you manage this stressful situation. This guide delves into the DUI arrest procedure, focusing on your rights and what you should anticipate from the moment of the traffic stop to your transport to the police station.

1. The Traffic Stop

Reasons for Stops

Imagine this: you’re driving home late at night and slightly swerve to avoid an object on the road. Lights flash behind you, and soon, a police officer is at your window. Traffic stops for suspected DUI often start with minor traffic infractions such as swerving, speeding, or running a red light. California law requires officers to have a probable cause, such as visible signs of impairment or traffic violations, to initiate a stop (Vehicle Code 23152(a)).

Officer’s Assessment

During the stop, the officer will evaluate your behavior for signs of intoxication—slurred speech, the smell of alcohol, or erratic behavior can all be contributing factors. Your interaction with the officer is critical; being cooperative can help, but remember to exercise your rights. The officer’s observations during this initial interaction form the foundation of their decision to conduct further sobriety tests.

2. Field Sobriety and Breathalyzer Tests

Types of Field Sobriety Tests

If the officer suspects you are under the influence, they might ask you to perform field sobriety tests. These tests can include following an object with your eyes, walking in a straight line, or standing on one leg. These tests assess your balance, coordination, and ability to follow instructions, which can be difficult under intoxication.

Role of Breathalyzer Tests

A breathalyzer test, which measures your blood alcohol content (BAC), often follows field sobriety tests. In California, a BAC of 0.08% or higher is grounds for a DUI charge (Vehicle Code 23152(b)). The results from a breathalyzer can be a crucial piece of evidence in a DUI case, providing concrete data about your intoxication level.

Legal Rights and Refusal

It’s important to know that you have the right to refuse field sobriety tests; however, implied consent laws in California mean that refusal to undergo a breathalyzer test can lead to automatic penalties, such as license suspension. Choosing to refuse these tests could complicate your situation, as refusal can be used as evidence of guilt in court.

3. Making the Arrest

Circumstances Leading to Arrest

If the officer determines there is sufficient evidence from their observations, your performance on sobriety tests, and the breathalyzer results, they will proceed with an arrest for DUI. An arrest is formalized by the officer stating that you are not free to leave and taking you into custody.

Rights Upon Arrest

At the time of your arrest, you should hear your Miranda rights, which include the right to remain silent and the right to legal counsel. These rights are crucial for protecting your interests during and after the arrest process. Remember, anything you say can be used against you in court.

4. Transport to the Police Station

Procedure During Transport

After the arrest, you will be transported to the nearest police station for booking. This procedure involves taking you safely and securely to the station, where you will be processed and formally charged.

Booking Process

During booking, your personal details are recorded, and the specific charges against you are documented. This stage also includes fingerprinting and taking your photograph. While this part of the process is largely administrative, it marks the beginning of your case within the criminal justice system.

5. Handling of the Driver’s Vehicle

Towing and Impoundment

If no sober passenger can take the wheel, law enforcement will tow and impound your vehicle. This standard procedure is outlined in the California Vehicle Code, which mandates the impoundment of vehicles under DUI circumstances to prevent further driving under influence. The costs associated with towing and storage are your responsibility. These fees can be significant, so it’s wise to ask the officer about the towing company and storage location to address these costs promptly.

Alternative Options

If there’s a sober, legally able passenger, they might be allowed to drive the vehicle from the scene. This option not only saves you towing costs but also simplifies retrieving your vehicle later. However, the decision lies with the arresting officer, who assesses the passenger’s condition and legal ability to drive. If the officer has doubts about the passenger’s sobriety or ability to drive safely, they will likely opt for towing the vehicle.

6. Treatment of Passengers

Legal Considerations for Passengers

Passengers are not automatically involved in your DUI charge. However, their behavior and state can come under scrutiny. If a passenger is also suspected of intoxication, they could face their own legal challenges. Officers assess each passenger’s condition, and if found sober, they are usually allowed to leave independently or with the vehicle, if permitted.

Transport and Release

Sober passengers typically have the freedom to leave the scene on their own. If they can legally drive and the officer permits, they may take the vehicle; otherwise, they must arrange for alternative transportation. This process ensures that passengers are safely removed from the scene without unnecessary delay or involvement in the legal proceedings of the driver.

7. Documentation and Evidence Collection

Every DUI arrest involves detailed documentation by the arresting officer. This includes the results of field sobriety tests and breathalyzer tests, which are crucial in establishing the BAC levels. Officers also record their observations and any statements made during the arrest. These documents form the foundation of the prosecution’s case against you and are vital for your defense. Ensuring accuracy in this documentation can significantly impact the outcome of your case.

8. Initial Legal Advice

Seeking legal representation early in the process can be pivotal. A DUI attorney specializes in navigating the complexities of DUI law and can offer strategies that may reduce penalties or even lead to a dismissal of charges. They can help interpret the police documentation and may challenge inaccuracies or procedural errors. Engaging an attorney immediately after an arrest can provide critical guidance through the DMV and court proceedings.

To sum things up

Understanding the DUI arrest process equips you with the knowledge to handle the situation more effectively. Remember, your actions and decisions from the moment of the traffic stop can influence the outcome of your case. Keeping informed and maintaining composure will aid you in navigating through this challenging time. Should you face a DUI charge, promptly consulting with a qualified DUI lawyer is crucial to protect your rights and explore all possible legal avenues.


Facing a DUI charge can be overwhelming, particularly if it’s your first encounter with the law. If you’ve been arrested for a DUI in your city, you probably have many questions about what comes next and how you can handle the situation. This FAQ section is designed to answer some of the most pressing questions you might have about DUI arrests that haven’t been covered in the basic guide above.

What should I do if I can’t afford bail after a DUI arrest?

If you find yourself unable to afford bail after a DUI arrest, you might qualify for a release on your own recognizance (ROR), which means you can be released without paying bail based on your promise to return for court. Another option is to seek the services of a bail bondsman, who can post bail for you for a fee, typically around 10% of the total bail amount.

Can I challenge the results of a breathalyzer test?

Yes, you can challenge the results of a breathalyzer test. Common defenses include questioning the accuracy of the breathalyzer calibration, the time between drinking and testing, or the proper administration of the test by the officer. An experienced DUI attorney can help you explore these defenses based on the specifics of your case.

What happens to my driver’s license after a DUI arrest?

After a DUI arrest, your driver’s license is typically suspended pending further proceedings. In many states, you have a short window, often around 10 days, to request a hearing with the Department of Motor Vehicles to challenge your license suspension. If you don’t request a hearing, the suspension usually goes into effect automatically.

How long does a DUI stay on my record?

A DUI can stay on your record for a significant amount of time, impacting your insurance rates and employment opportunities. The duration depends on your state’s laws but generally ranges from 5 to 10 years. In some cases, you may be eligible to have the DUI expunged from your record, depending on the circumstances and your state’s laws.

What are the penalties for refusing a breathalyzer test?

Refusing a breathalyzer test can lead to automatic penalties, such as license suspension and fines, because of implied consent laws. These penalties are typically separate from those that may be imposed if convicted of the DUI itself. The specifics can vary widely by state, so it’s crucial to understand the laws in your jurisdiction.

Can I drive after a DUI arrest if my license is suspended?

Driving after your license has been suspended due to a DUI arrest is illegal and can result in further penalties, including fines and potential jail time. However, you might be eligible for a restricted or hardship license that allows you to drive to essential places, like work or school, during your suspension period. This depends on your state’s laws and the specifics of your case.

Helpful Links

For a comprehensive understanding of DUI laws and processes in California, consider these authoritative resources:

  • California DMV – DUI Information: This page offers detailed insights into DUI impacts on driving privileges and the administrative actions involved.
  • Superior Court of California – County of San Diego: Find information on DUI court processes and rehabilitation programs in San Diego County.
  • California Highway Patrol – Impaired Driver Enforcement Programs: Describes the CHP’s initiatives to combat impaired driving through enforcement and public education.
  • Superior Court of California – County of Fresno: Details on the DUI Court program in Fresno which focuses on reducing recidivism through integrated treatment and judicial oversight.
  • California Courts – DUI Courts: Provides an overview of DUI courts across California, which aim to enhance public safety through rehabilitative and supervisory approaches for repeat offenders.
DALA Staff Writer
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