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DUI conviction reversed because of arresting officer's mistake

As most drivers know, when you apply for a driver’s license here in California you are also consenting to field sobriety tests and chemical tests as well. That’s because, like some states in the country, California has implied consent laws that can make it a misdemeanor offense if you refuse to submit to alcohol testing.

Some of our San Diego readers may be familiar with the fact that refusing to submit to sobriety and/or chemical testing here in California only leads to a misdemeanor though if there is a drunk driving conviction. But did you know that this law is superseded by federal law if the person is arrested while in a national park? Do you know how a refusal is treated when it comes to federal law? Would you even know if you were breaking the law?

We bring up these questions because of a DUI case that recently went before the 9th Circuit Court. The conviction in the case was reversed because a man was not informed about the fact stated above when he was arrested for drunk driving in a national park in 2011. Although the man was informed about the California law regarding refusal of testing, the court noted that he was not informed about the similar federal law. It was therefore, in the court’s opinion, that his right to due process had been violated.

For those who do not know, refusing testing under federal law is a crime regardless of whether or not the person is convicted of drunk driving. But the three-judge appeals panel agreed that it was unfair to convict the man on a refusal charge when he was told repeatedly that it wasn’t a crime even though it was.

The hope now is that his case stands as a reminder to law enforcement that it is just as important to know the laws governing their jurisdiction as it is for people to follow those laws.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Conviction Tossed for Refused Sobriety Test,” Deshayla Strachan, April 22, 2014

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Former Criminal Prosecutor With Proven Results