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Many people make the mistake of assuming that just because they’re arrested, they’re automatically going to face charges. They might also assume that they’re automatically going to be convicted. Under California law, an arrest doesn’t always mean charges, and charges don’t always mean a conviction.
An officer can take a person into custody any time that they have probable cause to believe that they’ve committed a crime. They don’t have to consult with another person before they make the arrest. They also aren’t the final say on whether the arrested person faces charges for the crime.
Once a police officer makes a DUI arrest, they prepare a police report. They forward this report to the state’s attorney. It’s the attorney that decides whether the person faces charges for the crime. They’re free to charge the person with every crime that the officer thinks the person committed. They can also charge the person with no crimes at all. The state’s attorney is also free to charge lesser offenses.
The state’s attorney has time to make their decision. If they want more information, they’re free to ask the officer to conduct a follow up investigation. They’re also free to ask law enforcement to track down video of the arrest or an audio recording if it exists in the case. Sometimes, it can take days, weeks or even months for the state to determine if they plan to pursue charges in the case.
If the police officer gave the arrested person a breath test, they know the results of the test immediately. The person blows into a breath test instrument, and the instrument gives a result right away. However, if the police administer a blood test in the case, the answer isn’t immediate. In that case, the police have to send the test off to a laboratory to analyze the blood. That can take weeks or months. This might delay the state’s decision to file charges.
In the meantime, the person that’s arrested might receive a bond from jail. United States law doesn’t allow the police to hold a person in jail indefinitely until the state decides on charges. They have to let the person go. They might release the person from jail with bond conditions, or they might just allow the person to go without a bond until the state makes a decision on charges.
Even if a law enforcement officer has good intentions, they can make mistakes. They might not realize these mistakes until the state’s attorney points them out. If law enforcement violated a person’s due process by stopping their vehicle without the legal authority to do so, this can impact whether the charges are appropriate.
Law enforcement also has to conduct their investigation in an appropriate way. There are some field sobriety tests that are reliable, and others that are not. The officer needs to follow proper protocols in order to determine if the driver is intoxicated or over the legal limit.
If the officer doesn’t conduct their investigation properly, there’s a good chance that the state’s attorney might decline to file charges. State attorneys want to choose cases that they’re going to win. They might decide it’s not worth their time to pursue the case if law enforcement didn’t do a proper investigation.
Even if the state brings charges, it’s not the state or even a judge that determines whether the accused person is innocent or guilty. Instead, the person has a right to have a trial by jury. This is an important protection to make sure that the person accused receives a fair trial from a neutral group of people.
Often, law enforcement officers and even state attorneys forget that what looks like obvious guilt to them might not be such an open and shut case to the people who are the sitting on the jury. Jurors put a high level of expectations on police officers. Jurors want to make sure that a person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before they make the decision to convict someone of a crime.
For that reason, a conviction isn’t a given. There might be innocent explanations for the accused person’s behavior. There might be a second analysis of the investigation by a defense expert that demonstrates errors. It’s important for each person accused to investigate their case and prepare to tell their story to the jury instead of just accepting the police accusations against them.