Since driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is illegal in California, motorists need adequate legal representation when charged with such a crime. The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney has over a decade of experience helping alleged DUI offenders fight their cases. We are a top-rated DUI and criminal defense law firm in Los Angeles, CA driven by our passion for the pursuit for justice. Here is everything you should know when facing a DUI charge.
What are the California Laws on DUI?
A DUI charge can be prosecuted pursuant to Vehicle Codes 23152(a) and 23152(b). VC 23152(a) makes it illegal to drive a vehicle under alcohol influence. VC 23152(b), on the other hand, suggests that it is illegal to drive a car with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher. While most DUI charges are prosecuted with regards to alcohol consumption, substance abuse may also form the basis of a DUI charge.
Section 23152(f) of the California Vehicle Codes considers it unlawful to drive a motor vehicle while intoxicated with drugs. If the crime of DUI resulted in bodily injury to any person other than the offender, it will be charged pursuant to Vehicle Code 23153. Your conviction for a DUI offense will begin with the court establishing whether you were impaired by alcohol or drug abuse.
The DUI Arrest Process
The majority of the DUI arrests taking place in California begin with a law enforcement officer ordering a traffic stop. Once your car is stopped, the officer will take you through various field sobriety tests and ask you to blow air into a breathalyzer. If your breathalyzer confirms that your BAC level is above the recommended limit, you will be arrested and taken to the police station. The arresting officer will also ask you to take either a breath or blood test at the station.
If you are facing a misdemeanor DUI charge, your release from jail will be processed a few hours of the arrest and detention provided you post bail. Upon being released, an officer will give you a pink temporary driver's license and a citation to show up in court. Your driver's license will be confiscated and mailed to the DMV only if you are a California resident.
Understanding the Relationship Between a DUI Arrest and License Suspension
Suspensions on a driver’s license can either be initiated by the California DMV or the court. A court-triggered suspension on your license will depend on the particular DUI offense you committed. Since a judge will not impose it, the court will notify the DMV to have the suspension imposed. You may negotiate for a charge reduction (such as wet reckless) during the plea bargaining to avoid the court notifying the DMV.
If you violated an administrative per se law, expect the California DMV to try to suspend your driver’s license. You will have ten days following your DUI arrest to have a DMV hearing requested as a way of putting a temporary stay or hold on the license suspension. If you fail to ask for this hearing, the DMV will automatically suspend your license. Your driver’s license will not be suspended if the chemical test results prove your BAC is below 0.08 percent.
How Does a Court-Triggered License Suspension Differ from a DMV-Triggered One?
While a court proceeding will determine whether you are guilty or innocent of a DUI offense, a DMV hearing will focus on your driving privilege. The DMV hearing will also be based on the circumstances surrounding your arrest. Though you have a choice whether or not to request the hearing, a court proceeding is mandatory following your DUI arrest. A win in a DMV hearing will not affect the outcomes of the court.
A DMV hearing is usually a complicated process, which should be navigated with the help of a criminal defense lawyer. Once you lose the hearing, an administrative per se suspension will be applied to your license. The DMV may allow you to continue driving provided you install an IID, ignition interlock device, in your car.
Understanding Blood Alcohol Concentration and its Relation to DUI
BAC is a standard measure of the alcohol levels in a person’s bloodstream. This measure helps law enforcement officers establish whether you were driving under the influence of alcohol. A BAC above the legal limit may indicate you are drunk. Pursuant to Vehicle Code 23152, BAC legal limits, which depend on your age and the kind of motor vehicle you are driving, include:
- 05% for underage drivers
- 4% for a limo, taxi or ride-sharing drivers
- 4% for commercial drivers
- 08% for adult non-commercial drivers
Since BAC chemical tests are considered scientifically accurate, they are admissible to a California court for proceedings on a DUI case. The test takes the form of either blood or breath tests. Breath tests, which deliver instant results through the use of a breathalyzer, may be conducted during or after an arrest. Though they do not directly measure the alcohol percentage in your blood, they rely on the alcohol present in your lungs.
While blood tests for BAC are more invasive than breath tests, they guarantee accurate results when establishing a driver’s blood alcohol concentration. With a blood test, part of your blood sample will be saved while the other sample sent to a laboratory for further analysis. It takes several weeks to get the results. Your lawyer can also ask for the saved sample and have an independent expert test it.
What are the Penalties for a DUI Charge in California?
Once convicted of a crime of DUI for the first time in California, you will be sentenced to up to 6 months in the local county jail. The court will also order you to pay a fine (within the $390-$1,000 range) or sentence you to informal probation for up to five years. Enrollment in a court and state-approved alcohol and drug education program may also be among the penalties.
A DUI conviction may result in the judge ordering you to have an expert install an IID (Ignition Interlock Device) in your vehicle’s dashboard. When this device installed in your car, it allows you to drive to various locations without restrictions. If it is not installed, you risk having a license suspension (which may be turned to a restricted license) for six to ten months. Restricted licenses allow DUI offenders to drive within specified routes, which include to and from school, DUI school or work.
Can the Penalties for a DUI Charge be Increased?
Various aggravating factors may result in the penalties for your DUI conviction being increased. These factors only apply when you are facing a DUI charge for the first time. They include:
- Causing a motor vehicle accident
- Refusing to submit to a mandatory chemical (blood or breath) test
- Having a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) of 0.15% or more
- Being under 21 years of age at the time you committed the offense
- Child endangerment (having children below 14 years of age in your car pursuant to PC 273a)
- Speeding (driving at excessively high seeds on a street or highway)
Does a DUI Conviction Have Potential Immigration Consequences?
While most convictions of DUI crimes do not carry negative immigration consequences, various aggravating factors may result in your deportations. The factors include a conviction for another crime based on a similar incident or prior criminal record. You also risk facing deportation if the total sentences for your crimes are equal to over five years. When the prosecutors prove criminal recklessness in your DUI case, the DUI offense may trigger deportation since it involves moral turpitude.
Committing a DUI offense with a child in your car may result in child endangerment charges pursuant to Penal Code 273(a). A child endangerment criminal charge may be considered as a crime of moral turpitude hence increasing your chances facing for deportation. An arrest for having illegal substances in your system while driving may have negative consequences on your immigration status. You may have a chance to battle this arrest with your lawyer's help in an immigration court.
Which Elements of a DUI Crime Should the Prosecutor Prove?
The prosecution team is supposed to base their evidence and facts regarding your DUI charge on various elements of the crime. They should prove you violated the DUI laws or acted in a negligent manner at the time you were driving. Results from your BAC tests can also help them build a solid case against you. Here are the elements of a DUI crime the prosecutors must prove:
- Your BAC was 0.08 percent or Higher
You will be charged for violating VC 23152(b) if the chemical test results show your BAC level to be 0.08 percent or more. The prosecution team will introduce a copy of the results in support of their allegations against you. Having a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher may mean that your mental or physical abilities were too impaired for you to drive a vehicle.
- You Were Driving Negligently at the Time of the Traffic Stop
Speeding and reckless driving are among the driving offenses used to prove you were driving in a negligent manner. The probable cause for your DUI arrest may also be based on these offenses. If found guilty of one of these driving offenses, the court may decide to increase your penalties.
- You Broke One of the California DUI Laws
You can only be prosecuted for a DUI charge if the offense falls under California’s DUI laws. The various laws you may be accused of breaking include VC 23152(a), VC 23153(b) and VC 23153 among others. Once convicted of the offense, your sentencing will be based on the specific law you broke.
Do Out-of-state Drivers Get Charged with DUI in California?
Being an out-of-state driver in California does not excuse you from facing a DUI charge. Once arrested for having a BAC of 0.08% or more, expect the arresting officer to notify you of a 30-day suspension on your driving privilege. The officer will also replace your California driver's license with a temporary one after confiscating it. Your license suspension will take effect once the temporary license expires.
The arresting officer should have a probable cause for the arrest and prove you had a BAC of 0.08% or higher while driving. One way to prevent the license suspension from taking effect is by requesting a California DMV administrative hearing in ten days after being arrested. If the DMV suspends your license after losing the hearing, your home state driver's license is likely to be suspended too since California complies to the IDLC. The Interstate DLC (Drivers License Compact) allows for every driver to have a single driving record and license in the country.
What Happens to Military Members Charged with DUI
The members of the US military are not exempt from DUI charges but risk facing severe penalties for committing a DUI crime in California. The consequences include loss of security clearance, fines, imprisonment and rank reduction. Others include pay reduction and a dishonorable discharge from the service. Any military member arrested for a DUI offense should be charged in a military court pursuant.
Military courts, which work like civilian courts, are established to help determine the fate of army men and women charged for violating martial law. They mainly prosecute officers charged for committing war crimes. Pursuant to Military and Veterans Code 450, military courts include general court-martial (for more severe offenses), special court-martial (for serious offenses) and summary court-martial (for minor offenses).
If a civilian police officer initiates the DUI arrest, you (the military member) will be prosecuted in a civilian court. Your commanding officer may take additional administrative actions against you following the arrest. The potential penalties for the offense in a civilian court include having your driving privileges revoked, enrolling in a DUI school and seeking treatment for substance abuse. The military may also charge you with the same offense separately from the civilian court.
What Happens to Veterans Facing DUI Charges?
American military veterans ailing from emotional or psychological trauma qualify to be enrolled in military diversion programs when convicted for misdemeanor DUI. The California legislature made changes to Penal Code 1001.80 to allow for this exception. You (a veteran) must be suffering from substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or sexual trauma to qualify. Other mental health problems suffered as a result of your military service may lead to your enrolment in this program.
Pursuant to Penal Code 1001.80, the pretrial diversion program allows for the temporary or permanent suspension of the criminal proceedings of a defendant. The program takes the form of deferred adjudication or probation that allows you to complete a particular obligation. A California court will assign you a community-based or federal treatment service program for you. Once enrolled, you will be treated for your specific mental health problems.
Which Legal Defenses Can Help You When Facing a DUI Charge?
One way your lawyer can help you fight a DUI charge is by arguing that the arresting officer failed to observe proper procedures. Your attorney may also suggest you were not impaired or intoxicated while driving. The following defenses can help you avoid the life-changing consequences of a DUI conviction:
You Exhibited Symptoms of Intoxication not Caused by Alcohol or Substance Use
Police officers consider symptoms such as a flushed face, slurred speech and red, watery eyes as a sign of intoxication. Your attorney can explain link these symptoms to conditions such as fatigue, fever, eye irritation or allergies when arguing your case. This defense strategy may work if you were not intoxicated when the officer stopped your vehicle.
The Police Officer Did not Follow the Correct Procedures
Police officers must spare at least 15 minutes observing alleged DUI drivers before submitting them to a DUI breath test. Proving the officer did not properly observe you can help challenge the accuracy of your breath test results. Other procedures police officers have to follow include, having a probable cause for the traffic stop, and reading you your Miranda rights before interrogation.
Your BAC Level was Inflated by Other Causes
Health conditions including diabetes and hypoglycemia are known to increase BAC levels. A high protein diet or fasting can also falsely inflate your blood alcohol concentration. Your lawyer can challenge your BAC results using this defense strategy.
Field Sobriety Tests are Unreliable When Measuring Impairment
Performing poorly in FSTs (Field Sobriety Tests) does not necessarily mean you engaged in drunk driving. The poor performance can be attributed to your clothing, flat feet, fatigue, and physical coordination. Your lawyer can challenge any FST results introduced by the prosecutors as part of the evidence.
Is There a Plea Bargain for a DUI Charge?
Wet reckless is usually considered a plea bargain in most DUI cases prosecuted in the State of California pursuant to VC 23103.5. Your lawyer may request the prosecution team to reduce your DUI charge to a wet reckless one. With this plea bargain, you may pay lower fines ($145 to $1,000), face a shorter ail sentence and enroll in a DUI school for a shorter period. You will not have an ignition interlock device attached to your vehicle or have your license suspended.
One consequence of a wet reckless plea bargain is that it will count as a DUI prior. Other consequences include having two points added on your DMV driving record or paying higher car insurance premiums. After agreeing with the prosecution team about this plea deal, A California court must approve it before it takes effect.
While wet reckless seems like an attractive plea deal, its applicability to your case will depend on the circumstances of the case. DMV penalties will still apply to your case either way. In this case, the DMV may order an administrative suspension. Factors such as unique mitigating circumstances and procedural flaws in your DUI arrest or investigation may prevent the prosecutor from offering you this deal.
The offenses related to a DUI charge in California are as follows:
- DUI Hit and Run
In a DUI hit and run crime, you must have allegedly been involved in a vehicle accident that caused damage to someone else or someone else's property while driving. Under Vehicle Code 20002, a misdemeanor hit and run offense (one that only causes bodily injury) attract penalties including restitution to the victims, jail time and informal probation. You will also pay a maximum of $1,000 in fines and have two points (per the California DMV) on your driving record. Since a felony hit and run offense results in great bodily injury and death, you may pay up to $10,000 in fines and serve up to three years in state prison pursuant to VC 20001.
- DUI Homicide
A crime of DUI homicide takes the form of a second-degree murder, which is prosecuted under the Penal Code 187. You may face this charge for having a prior DUI conviction and allegedly killing a third party while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage. DUI homicide is a felony offense punishable by a fine not exceeding $10,000 and a strike on your criminal record. You may also serve a fifteen-year to a life sentence in a state correctional facility.
- Underage DUI
Vehicle Code 23136 cautions drivers against operating a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.01% or more, while VC 23140 cautions against underage driving with a BAC of 0.05% or more. Both laws apply to drivers below the age of 21 years. Penalties include license revocation for two to three years if charged with a prior DUI conviction or a one-year license suspension for violating California's Zero Tolerance law for underage drivers (VC 23136). Other penalties for this violation include enrollment in an alcohol education program (for a driver above 18 years of age) and a $100 fine (for first offenses).
Find a Skilled and Reputable DUI Attorney Near Me
A DUI charge may impose negative consequences on your career or entire life whether it is charged as a misdemeanor or felony. Having a firm like The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on your side can help you explore various legal options for seeking justice. As a results-driven firm, we have handled several cases for clients based in Los Angeles, CA. Call our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer today at 310-564-2605 for a free consultation on your particular case.