It is well settled law that the police (or other law enforcement agency) involved in a DUI case in California need to show the arrest was valid and done in a Constitutionally sanctioned manner. Although the courts of California (and the U.S.) have eroded many of the protections that criminal defendants receive, people facing DUI cases still have some measure of Constitutional protection from blatant police abuse.
The Constitution protects people, not just places. (U.S. v Katz) The U.S. Supreme Court recognizes motorists still have Constitutional protection from unwarranted searches and seizures by police under the 4th Amendment. (U.S. v. Whren). While the expectation of privacy is lower in someone’s car as compared to their house; there is still a minimum level of protection against police arbitrarily stopping a motorist on a whim or hunch that criminal acitviy is occuring.
Defenses in DMV and the Courts for “Welfare Check” stops in California:
For a DMV hearing involving a 0.08% or higher chemical test case, the DMV must establish:
-The person facing suspension was seen by police driving the car
-The person facing suspension failed a Blood Alcohol breath or blood test
-The person facing suspension was lawfully detained and arrested by police
The first two issues are straightforward: if the police witnessed you driving a car, and you blew above a 0.08%BAC the DMV will suspend your license unless the arrest or detention in your case was not lawfully done. On the other hand, if you can successfully show the police stop was unlawful in nature, the Department must set-aside any suspension you may have been given.
Often in DUI cases, the detention and arrest is based on the police witnessing a vehicle code violation (like speeding or lane straddling (where the driver swerves between lanes.)) The law is clear with respect to police using vehicle code violations as probable cause to detain and arrest a driver: they must observe substantial violations. (U.S. v Colin).
A trick used by police: The Welfare Check
This is where the “welfare check” is used as a crutch by police. Because they must witness a “substantial” violation police involved in DUI cases will resort to other means to “get’er done” and stop people. The “welfare check” is where police justify stopping a driver because the driver’s conduct or appearance manifest a dangerous situation that, while falling short of criminal behavior, still justifies prudence and caution.
For example, if someone’s right wheel is shooting sparks from its rim because the tire is flat, a welfare check might be appropriate to protect that driver from losing control. This is to not only protect the driver, but to also protect others on the road.
A clever police officer can twist the facts of a case into an argument for justifying a “welfare check.” An example of this might be: The driver looks ‘confused’ or ‘drowsy’ when police look into his car while driving along.
The courts in California recognize there is an appropriate place for ‘welfare checks’ and that allowing welfare checks too frequently opens the practice up to abuse by unscrupulous police. The Courts in theses cases are supposed to act as “gate keepers” and prevent this abuse (People v. Madrid). In carrying out their role as ‘gatekeepers,’ the courts are required to exclude any evidence obtained from an illegal or unwarranted stop by police.
So, in a DMV hearing, you have to show that the police conduct was not for “welfare” checking, but rather a transparent attempt to cloak the officer’s true intentions: “gettin’her done” or “arresting a bad guy.”
Defenses attacking “welfare checks” in DUI California court cases.
Like the DMV, the California criminal courts that handle DUI cases are tasked with not allowing illegally obtained evidence to be used against people facing charges. Unlike the DMV, criminal court cases have even more procedures to protect the rights of the accused. In criminal cases, a DUI lawyer can “run a motion” meaning they can request court relief by filing a motion (in the case of supressing illegallly obtained evindece lawyers file motions under Penal Code 1538.) Arguments against illegally gathered evidence also fall under People v. Wilder and People v. Williams. Using motions and arguements from PC 1538 and cases that cover illegal police conduct, a DUI lawyer can supress evidence from grossly illeagal or oppressive police conduct.