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The Courts Trying DUI Cases in the Different Counties in the San Francisco Area Are Governed by the Rules of the California Vehicle Code


The courts are all under the same rules from the California Vehicle Code. The charges are usually very similar on a DUI defense or DUI charge. The best way to start it is with San Francisco and with the actual arrest.

DUIs Originate from an Arrest Made by the California Highway Patrol (CHP)

Most of the arrests for DUI, that I see, in San Francisco are where people have been arrested by the CHP, the California Highway Patrol. They are usually coming into or going out of San Francisco. Sometimes they make arrests in the middle of the city, but because a lot of the city is just driving from stoplight to stoplight it’s a lot harder for them to see driving issues, problematic driving, such as weaving. You need drivers traveling higher speeds to see more of that.

The three main ways in and out of San Francisco are to the South, to the East, and to the West. The South is going toward San Mateo County and usually drivers are going straight down the 101.

I will see DUI arrests mainly by CHP, people who are on the 80 from the Bay Bridge or from the city, heading onto the 101 toward Candlestick Park. Usually those are weaving or speeding arrests.

California Highway Patrol Can Make Arrests in Any Part of California

Then the CHP will also go further in San Mateo County and arrest people there as well. CHP can go down into San Mateo if they want; in fact CHP has authority to arrest anyone in any part of the state.

Very often when an individual gets a DUI in San Mateo County, it will be by a San Francisco CHP officer.

Also going South, or it’s almost Southwest if they take the 280 or the 380 out toward San Francisco State University or out toward Daily City. We’ll see a lot of CHP arrests on the 280 freeway or on the 380 interchange. Once you get down to the 380 you’re already San Mateo County.

Going east, we’ve noticed a big increase in arrests on the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge. Especially after they put in a S-curve and that required people to really slow down. It was there for a few years and now they’ve taken it out since they put the new stand on the East side of the Bay Bridge.

We do see many cases for speeding, for weaving, occasionally an accident, but that’s one of the most popular spots to get caught or stopped by an officer and investigated for a DUI either going into or out of San Francisco using the Bay Bridge.

The Amount of Arrests by CHP Increases after Midnight

The other location where we see many stops and these often result in DUIs are when drivers are going across the Golden Gate Bridge. They get a large number of people speeding on the Golden Gate Bridge because the speed limit there is just 45 miles an hour. There are not many officers on the bridge itself, but as you get later at night, CHP’s activity picks up, especially after 11 or12 o’ clock and then after the bars close.

The Golden Gate and Bay Bridges Are Locations Subject to Common Traffic Infractions That Lead to DUI Investigations

What happens is the Golden Gate Bridge has very narrow lanes as the Bay Bridge does as well, and so it’s very easy for someone to go over a line. In fact, all you have to do is to go over that line and they’ve got enough probable cause there, based on how they have been trained, to pull you over and do a DUI investigation.

Interviewer: If a driver is traveling just five miles past the speed limit, they will get pulled over?

Some Drivers Have Difficulty Staying within the Narrow Lanes of the Bridges

Attorney Bortel: I should say usually if someone is just going 50 on the bridge an officer is not going to pull them over, you rarely see that. The officers are saving it for higher speeds because they can get people going so much faster at all times of the day and night on that bridge.

What happens is with the narrow lanes, say on the Golden Gate Bridge, if you’re heading North toward Marin County you go up the hill and through what called the Waldo tunnel, and then you go down the Waldo grade, and down into Marin County, you will encounter narrow lanes, and a very curvy downhill slope, and people are going over the lines all the time.

It really doesn’t take much to go over the lines, even for people that have not been drinking. It’s very easy for the officers to stop someone and have their reason to pull them over. I will see a lot of stops in that area.

If the Officers Has Probable Cause to Initiate a DUI Investigation after Pulling over a Motorist, He or She Will Administer the Field Sobriety Tests and a Breath Test on a Portable Device

That’s how most people will end up getting stopped. The officers usually administer the field sobriety test and they’ll have them blow into a preliminary alcohol screening device. Now in some counties, that device and the result of that device are not as likely to come into evidence in the case, because it’s not the evidential breath or blood test that you have to take after being arrested for a DUI.

In San Francisco County, the Judges Allow the Preliminary Breath Test as Evidence; in Other Counties, the Judges May Disallow the Results

In San Francisco, most judges will let that test be entered into evidence, unless your DUI lawyer can find a way to keep it out. After the breath test, if the result is at or over an O.8, they will always arrest you.

By Aaron Bortel

Aaron Bortel

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