DUI Laws In The State Of California

California has some of the most stringent drunk or drugged driving laws nationwide. The two fundamental statutes that apply to adult drivers are VC 23152(a), which prohibits operating an automobile while under the influence of drugs and VC 23152(b), which forbids adult drivers from operating a vehicle with a BAC of .08 percent or higher. Driving an automobile under the influence of drugs is also covered under VC 23152(f).

The consequences for sentencing for breaching these regulations depend on your prior DUIs and whether a person sustained injuries. The consequences themselves are severe and life-changing hence the need for representation by a DUI attorney. At the Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we pride ourselves in defending people facing DUI charges. Our attorneys have highlighted DUI Laws in the State of California in this article to help you avoid a violation of these laws and plan your next move in the event of an arrest.

California DUI Laws

DUI, also known as driving under the influence, is the unlawful act of operating an automobile while drunk or drugged. Driving with a blood-alcohol level that exceeds the legal limit is the most common conviction under DUI laws. According to VC 23152, there are seven misdemeanor drunk driving offenses that you may be charged with. These are:

  1. California VC 23152(a)

VC 23152(a) says that if you are stopped by a law enforcement officer while operating an automobile and under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you can be arrested and charged with DUI. Vehicle Code 23152 is the statute that provides the basis for DUI laws. Under the influence in this statute is the impairment of an individual’s mental state, to the extent that the person cannot drive defensively or cautiously like an ordinary or sober person. Besides, being under the influence is not only limited to alcoholic beverages. The statute also includes intoxication that stems from drugs, legal or illegal.

Keep in mind that the way this statute is defined ensures that the prosecutor doesn’t need to prove the kind of substance that caused the impairment. The prosecution should demonstrate that you, as the defendant, was under the influence of a substance that impaired your ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.

Charges under this statute are customarily registered as a misdemeanor, and the consequences are often severe. You could end up with incarceration, pay hefty fines, add points on your DMV record leading to high insurance premiums, lose your driver’s license and obtain a criminal record, which could affect your future and goals adversely. A criminal record will prevent you from finding employment, promotion, and cause you to lose a professional license if you hold one.

It’s worth noting that you could be subject to felony charges under this statute if, within your lookback period, you have been convicted of multiple drunk driving charges or have had a prior felony DUI sentence.

  1. California VC 23152(b)

Vehicle Code 23152(b), also called the Per Se Law, makes it illegal for individuals to drive a vehicle while having a blood alcohol concentration level of .08 percent or greater. The statute is divided into two parts one that requires the driver to be under the influence alone and another that requires the adult driver to have a BAC of .08% or more.

Based on the circumstances of the case, you could face misdemeanor or felony charges. The factors that will determine the kind of charge you will be subjected to include your criminal history, the extent of your dangerous or reckless driving, and whether you caused any injuries at the time of driving. Ending up with a conviction of either of these charges can have serious repercussions. It is for this reason that you will need to hire a DUI attorney within Los Angeles after an arrest.

Typically, you will be stopped by an arresting officer after suspicion that you are drunk or drugged. The police officer will then ask you to perform at least one FST, administer a PAS test, or issue a more extensive chemical test on a sample of your blood, breath, or urine to establish whether or not you are intoxicated.

Note that failure to submit to a chemical or blood testing is a violation of Vehicle Code 23612. However, currently, anyone who refuses to submit a chemical or blood sample for testing can’t be charged with either VC 23152(b) or 23153 (b) violation. Instead, they are prosecuted under VC 23152(a), which results in an automatic loss of driving privileges for at least twelve months. The NHTSA is working on legislation that will give arresting officers the right to draw a blood sample at the scene to deny drivers stopped on suspicion of DUI from refusing to submit to Breathalyzer or chemical testing.

  1. California VC 23152 (c)

According to Vehicle Code 23152 (c), it is an offense to operate a vehicle when addicted to any kind of drug.

  1. California VC 23152 (d)

According to VC 23152 (d), it is illegal for commercial vehicle drivers to operate an automobile with a blood-alcohol level of .04% or greater. This statute applies stricter standards for holders of commercial driver’s licenses.

  1. California VC 23152 (e)

As per VC 23152 (e), it’s against the law for a taxi or Uber driver to drive a passenger in a passenger for-hire vehicle with a BAC of .04 percent or greater.

  1. California VC 23152(f)

As per Vehicle Code 23152(f), it is an offense to drive a vehicle while under the influence of drugs. The drugs in question include prescription drugs, OTC drugs that cause impairment, marijuana, or narcotics.

  1. California VC 23152 (g)

Last but not least, a misdemeanor offense under VC 23152 is 23512 (g) VC, which is the statute that prohibits adult drivers from driving while under the influence of both drugs and alcohol.

Take note that the majority of DUI arrests in California are for violation of VC 23152(a) & VC 23152(b), allowing prosecuting attorneys to determine the kind of charges to bring against you.

Drunk Driving Causing Injuries

In the event another person is injured due to your drunk or drugged driving, you will be charged for inflicting injuries and Vehicle Code 23153. This offense is a wobbler, which means your criminal record and the circumstances of your case are the ones to determine whether you will be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.

Felony DUI Laws in the State of California

As stated earlier, the majority of DUI offenses in California are filed and prosecuted as misdemeanors. However, under exceptional circumstances, a person arrested for drunk or drugged driving could face felony charges and prosecution. Some of the situations that can result in these charges include:

  • A prior felony sentencing within the last ten years

  • A 4th DUI or wet reckless within the previous ten years

  • A 3rd DUI causing injuries in the last ten years

  • Drunk driving charge causing injury or death on someone else within the last ten years

Although drunk driving charges causing injuries are generally registered as felonies, they could still be filed as misdemeanors depending on the extent of injuries or damages. Your DUI history, criminal record, and reckless or dangerous driving character are other things that will determine if the charges or prosecution will be a felony or a misdemeanor. If a DUI results in death, you could be subject to vehicular manslaughter while under the influence, according to PC 191.5b, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under PC 191.5a or Watson Murder.

DUI and DMV Hearing in California

California DUI laws are enforced by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the courts, and law enforcement officers. The superior courts are the ones that impose criminal penalties upon conviction like jail time, court fines, and probation. The DMV, on the other hand, imposes administrative penalties that affect your driving privileges like revocation or suspension of driver’s license.

Similarly, there is the implied consent law, which assumes that once a driver has been issued with a license, he or she has given consent to chemical or Breathalyzer testing. If you, as a licensed driver, fail to agree to submit a blood, breath, or urine sample for testing, you will face an automatic driver’s license suspension or revocation.

You must request an administrative per se hearing, also known as the DMV hearing within ten days after your DUI arrest. Otherwise, your driving privileges will be automatically suspended. If you request a hearing within the appropriate time, the DMV will set a date where your case will be heard and determined. In case you refused to take a test after the arrest, you will not be issued with a temporary license, which could have allowed you to continue driving but under strict conditions.

DUI Laws in the State of California and Their Penalties

A DUI in California is a priorable offense. It means that your previous DUI conviction within the last ten years will affect your subsequent sentence resulting in enhanced penalties. According to the current DUI laws, a conviction will count as a prior if it occurs within the look-back period of ten years from the date of your previous offense. If an offense goes beyond ten years after its commission, it no longer counts as a prior so it won’t affect your sentence.

Although the penalties of a DUI sentence can be harsh and life-changing, they can be reduced or eliminated at the same time. However, you will need the services of The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney for this to happen. An attorney will also come in handy on the issue of the DMV hearing. He or she will ensure you request a hearing on time. Additionally, during the administrative hearing, the attorney will negotiate and use various defense strategies to ensure that you retain your driver’s as you prepare for the criminal proceeding in court.

Penalties for a 1st DUI Conviction

If you are a first time DUI offender, the prosecutor will prefer misdemeanor charges against you. Upon sentencing in court, you will be subject to the following penalties:

  • Court fines ranging from $390 to $1,000. The amount could increase to $3,600 if penalty assessment and fees are included in the fine.

  • Six months’ jail sentence

  • Six months license suspension

  • Summary probation for three years, although the probation can be increased to five years.

  • Installation of an IID for six months

  • Three to six months of AB541 class approved by the court

It’s worth noting that if you lose your DMV hearing, you will be subject to driving privileges suspension for four months. The period can be extended to twelve months in case after the arrest; you refused to submit a blood or urine sample for testing.

Consequences for a 2nd DUI Offense Sentencing

If you end up with a conviction for second misdemeanor DUI, the penalties will be as follows:

  • Three to five years of informal probation with a condition to complete an eighteen to thirty months DUI school program.

  • No more than twelve months in jail

  • Mandatory installation of an IID in your vehicle for no more than twelve months

  • Between three hundred and ninety to one thousand dollar court fines plus penalty assessment fees increasing the total to no more than $4,000.

  • A court-imposed license suspension for no more than twenty-four months: - Take note that you can qualify for a restricted license after the first ninety days of a license suspension, which will allow you to drive but only to limited areas. Also, if the drunk driving charge involved drugs, the first ninety days into the suspension is extended to one year. It means that a person convicted with drugged driving can only apply for a restricted license after one year.

There are multiple ways you can have the penalties of a second DUI offense reduced or dismissed. However, to learn about these strategies, you need to reach out to a criminal defense attorney who understands California DUI laws.

Punishment for a Third DUI Offense

If you end up with a sentence for a third drunk driving offense within a look-back period of ten years, you will be subject to the following consequences:

  • Between three to five years of informal probation with a condition to complete a thirty-month DUI school program.

  • At least one hundred and twenty days and at most twelve months sentence in jail

  • Mandatory fitting of an IID in your vehicle for no more than twenty-four months

  • Thirty-six months of driving privileges suspension. 3rd DUI offenders can also apply for a restricted license after the first six months without driving privileges.

  • Fines ranging from $390 to $1,000

On top of these penalties, the DMV might designate you as a habitual traffic offender.

Penalties for Fourth DUI Offense

If you end up with a conviction for fourth and subsequent drunk or drugged driving charge within the 120 months look back duration, you will face the following penalties:

  • Court fines ranging from 390 to 5,000 dollars

  • Driving privileges suspension for no more than 48 months

  • Between 36 to 60 months of probation

  • A record showing you are a convicted felon

  • Mandatory fixing of an IID in your vehicle for no more than thirty-six months

  • Incarceration is a state prison for between sixteen to thirty-six months

Remember that when determining if you have three prior convictions, the lookback period is determined not on the date of conviction, but on the date you committed the offense. Offenses whose sentencing counts as priorable offenses include:

  • VC 23152(a) - DUI

  • VC 23152(b) – DUI with a BAC of .08% or more

  • VC 23153 – DUI with injury

  • VC 23103.5 – Wet reckless

  • An expunged sentence of any of the above offenses

Penalties for Drunk Driving Causing Injury

If a DUI results in an accident that injures people, your punishment upon conviction will be stricter than that of a standard drunk driving charge. The offense is a wobbler, which gives the prosecutor the discretion to decide on the type of charge to prefer against you. The decision on what to charge you with depends on the facts of the case and your criminal past.

If the preferred charge is a misdemeanor, and you end up with a sentence, the court will impose the following penalties:

  • A thirty-six to sixty months’ probation

  • Incarceration in jail for between five days to twelve months

  • Fines ranging from three hundred and ninety to five thousand dollars

  • Restitution of the injured victims of the DUI accident

  • Installation of an IID for no more than a half a year

On the other hand, if you end up with a felony DUI causing injury conviction, the court will impose the following penalties:

  • Between 16 to 120 months incarceration in state prison plus extra and successive twelve to seventy-two months, prison incarceration is imposed. The sentence will depend on the number of people injured in the drunk driving accident and the severity of the injuries sustained.

  • Court fines ranging from $1,015 to $5,000

  • Restituting all the injured individuals

  • A convicted felon status for no more than thirty-six months

  • Mandatory installation of an IID for up to thirty-six months

Consequences of a Felony DUI Conviction

You end up with a felony drunk or drugged driving sentencing if you obtain a fourth or subsequent conviction within a ten-year window period. The court will subject you to the following penalties if you end up with a conviction:

  • Sixteen, twenty-four or thirty-six months in prison

  • Court fines ranging from $390 to $1,000

  • Mandatory fitting of an IID for at least twelve months' failure to which your driver’s license will be suspended for 48 months.

  • Designation as HTO by the Department of Motor Vehicles

Additional Conditions of Probation

On top of the penalties mentioned above, if the court imposes probation on your sentence, there are particular conditions that you must meet. These are:

  • You shall not operate an automobile with any measurable amount of alcohol in your body.

  • If arrested for subsequent drinking and driving charges, you will not refuse to submit to Breathalyzer or chemical testing.

  • You shall not commit any extra offense

Besides, based on the facts of your case, the court might impose the following conditions:

  • Attendance of AA or NA meetings

  • Taking part in MADD Victim Impact Program

  • Restitution of accident victims if there was a DUI accident

In the event you violate any of these probations, you will face serious consequences.

Aggravating Factors that Increase your Drunk or Drugged Driving Sentence

Some facts and circumstances, if present in your drunk driving case, could result in sentence enhancements. These aggravating circumstances will increase the penalties regardless of the type of DUI that led to your sentence. The common aggravating factors in DUI charges include:

  • Having a BAC level of 0.15% or greater

  • Failure to submit to chemical testing

  • Causing a DUI accident

  • Speeding

  • Drunk driving with a minor 14 years or younger in the vehicle

  • Being 21 years or young at the time of DUI arrest

Your previous DUI record and the facts of your case will determine the additional penalties you will receive for these aggravating circumstances.

Alternative Sentencing Options

Instead of serving jail or prison sentences after a drinking and driving conviction, the judge can impose alternative sentencing options. These options include:

  • Community labor

  • Electronic monitoring

  • House arrest

  • Imprisonment in a private jail like Hawthorne

It’s worth noting that most of the criminal defense attorneys out there who don’t practice DUI defense are not aware of these alternative sentencing options. For this reason, whenever you are hiring an attorney for representation, find someone who specializes in drunk driving charges. An attorney like that will negotiate and convince the prosecutor to lower the penalties or drop the charges. A proficient attorney will also represent you in court and during the DMV hearing helping you avoid the harsh punishments of violating DUI laws in the state of California.

Find the Right Drunk Driving Attorney Near Me

Anytime you are pulled over by a police officer while driving, it’s crucial to understand DUI laws in California and their penalties. The best way to understand these statutes is by contacting a criminal defense lawyer who specializes in defending persons facing DUI charges. Stay calm today and reach out to The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney at 310-564-2605 for a zero-obligation consultation.

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Call 310-564-2605 24/7 if you want to retain excellent attorneys.

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