Driving under the influence (DUI) in California is a serious offense. If convicted of drunk driving, a court can fine you, suspend your driver’s license, or even send you to jail. But a DUI charge doesn’t have to end in a conviction. If you get arrested for a DUI in the Emerald Bay area in Orange County, don’t hang your head and plead guilty. You can fight the case and possibly get yourself off the hook. We at the Orange County DUI Attorney have long experience successfully defending DUI cases. Talk to our Emerald Bay DUI attorney to review your case and plan on how to represent you.
An Overview of the California DUI Laws
Driving under the influence is the illegal act of operating a motor vehicle while impaired by the effect of alcohol or drugs, or while having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more.
For specific drivers, the BAC standard is stricter. CDL license holders have a BAC limit of 0.04 percent and above, while drivers aged below 21 years can get charged with impaired driving if their BAC level is 0.01 percent or higher.
The California DUI Laws are found in Vehicle Code Section 23152 as follows:
California Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC - it’s a crime to drive a motor vehicle when under the influence of any alcoholic beverage.
California Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC makes it a crime to drive a motor vehicle when you have 0.08 percent or more by weight of alcohol in your blood.
California Vehicle Code 23152(e) VC makes it a crime to drive a motor vehicle when under the influence of any drug.
California Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC makes it a crime to drive a motor vehicle when you are under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug.
In most cases, the police will charge you for both the 23152(a) CV and 23152(b) VC, but if convicted, the court will punish you for one.
What Happens After a California DUI Arrest?
After arresting you for DUI in California, the officer will take you to a police station, jail, or hospital for a breath or BAC test. The tests measure your blood alcohol level.
While breath test results are immediately available, blood test results can take several days as police take samples to the laboratory for analysis.
If your breath test shows a BAC of 0.08 percent or more, you will get an added charge under California’s “per se” DUI law. In this law, you are automatically guilty of DUI if your BAC is 0.08 percent or more, even if the police can’t prove you were intoxicated when they arrested you.
If your breath test is lower than 0.08 percent, the officer may suspect that you were drug driving and so require you to take a blood or urine test.
And, if you refuse to take a DUI chemical test, you will face increased penalties - above the standard DUI penalties - or get your driver’s license suspended regardless of the outcome of your DUI case. This is one reason why you may need an experienced Emerald Bay DUI attorney to fight to reduce your penalties or get you discharged.
The DUI Court Process in California
Upon arrest for DUI, the police can release you on your recognizance or if you post bail. At release, they will give you a future court date.
If not released, you have a right to appear before a judge within 48 hours of your arrest.
We recommend that you do not represent yourself on your DUI charges. Instead, get a skilled Emerald Bay DUI attorney to fight for you and guide you through the labyrinth of the DUI court process.
A typical court process for a DUI takes the following steps:
DUI's first appearance in court. When arraigned in court for the first time, the prosecutor will read the charges against you, and you will be asked to plead either guilty or not guilty. Alternatively, you can enter a no-contest plea, which is the same as a guilty plea.
Discovery and review of the evidence. Discovery and evaluation of evidence is an essential step before the trial begins. Here you request and review the evidence the prosecutor will use against you, plus any evidence that can help your case. The evidence includes the police reports and the blood test results.
Pretrial hearings and motions. In the pretrial hearings, your attorney and the prosecutors negotiate to limit the scope of the case. They haggle about the physical evidence to use, legal arguments to make, and if you should stand trial at all. Some cases end at this stage.
Trial. The trial is a long process that starts with jury selection. Then the prosecutor and defense attorney will make their opening statements, followed by the actual arguments. After that, the jury will take time to deliberate on the case and make their verdict. Finally, a judge will sentence you if found guilty or release you if not guilty.
Common Defenses for Fighting a DUI Charge
A DUI should not mean a conviction, especially if you get a strong team of lawyers to defend you. Your Emerald Bay DUI attorney will use great DUI defense expertise to highlight where reasonable doubt exists or even to prove your innocence.
Two successful strategies the attorneys could use to defend a California DUI case are as follows:
Prove you weren’t intoxicated. Your behavior or appearance can give the impression that you are drunk when, in fact, you aren’t. For instance, the prosecution could argue that you performed poorly on the field sobriety tests, and you had bloodshot eyes. But your defense attorney could argue that you failed the FSTs because you have an existing injury or you didn’t understand the instructions. And your bloodshot eyes were due to lack of sleep or an allergy. Through such arguments, the court can reach a “not guilty of DUI” verdict.
Prove the officer didn’t follow legal procedures in arresting you. The police need proper justification before they can initiate a traffic stop or arrest you. Sometimes the police fail to show that they acted with reasonable suspicion and probable cause in stopping and arresting you for DUI. A good lawyer might be able to fight a DUI charge because the officer failed to follow proper procedures in arresting you.
Other defense strategies a DUI defense lawyer might use include:
- FSTs don’t accurately measure driving impairment
- You were mentally alert, therefore not DUI, at the time of the arrest.
- Diabetes, hypoglycemia, or a high protein diet can falsely inflate BAC levels.
What The Prosecutor Must Prove to Convict You of California DUI
To prove that you are guilty of California’s DUI laws, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt these two elements:
- You were driving a motor vehicle, and
- At the time of driving, your BAC was 0.08 percent or higher, or you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Proving the defendant was driving. Unlike other states, in California, the prosecution must prove that you were actually driving, not just in physical control of the vehicle. For instance, you could be merely sitting or sleeping in the car, which can be a good defense against your DUI charges.
Proving the defendant was “under the influence” while driving. The prosecution will often rely on the breath or blood test results to prove your BAC was 0.08 percent or more and that you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
If you refuse the chemical test, the prosecution can use other evidence such as your driving conduct or your performance on the field sobriety tests.
What are the Penalties for California DUI?
The penalties for DUI depend on the case and offender characteristics, regardless of how the court decides the case. So, your previous DUI convictions play a crucial role in the severity of the penalty.
For instance, a first DUI conviction often does not get a mandatory jail term. But a second or subsequent conviction gets you a jail term, even if for a few days.
In California, a DUI conviction stays on your record for ten years, after which it ‘washes out’ and is no longer considered a prior for DUI sentencing purposes. So, if you get another DUI, say 12 years after the first one, the court will consider you as a first offender.
However, the statute sets the maximum and minimum penalties that courts can impose as follows.
California DUI Misdemeanors
Courts regard as misdemeanors the DUIs that didn’t cause injury, property damage, or death and impose the following penalties for their conviction.
Fines. Fines for misdemeanor DUI range from $390 to $ 1000. Also, penalty assessments can be added, which could increase the amount to several thousand dollars.
Jail terms. A first DUI offender can get a jail sentence of between 48 hours and six months. However, in many cases, the judge will order probation, which comes without a mandatory jail term.
But, if you are a second offender, you can be jailed for between 96 hours and one year. The jail term can be served on house arrest or through a work program.
A third DUI offender gets a jail sentence of between 120 days and one year, but the sentence can start from 30 days if the court grants probation plus a 30-month DUI school.
Driver’s license suspension. Typically your driver's license will be suspended for six months if you are a first offender. Also, the Department of Motor Vehicle will impose an administrative suspension of four months if you had a BAC of 0.08 percent or more. And if you refused to take the BAC test, you face an administrative suspension of one year.
If you’re convicted of DUI for the second time, the court could suspend your driver’s license for two years. Also, the DMV will limit your driving rights for 12 months if you get convicted with a BAC level of 0.08 percent and above.
And for a third-time offense, your driver’s license will be suspended for three years. Additionally, you will get a 12-month administrative suspension for convictions with a BAC level of 0.8 percent and higher.
And for all DUI offenses, if you get the standard and the administrative license suspensions, the law allows them to run concurrently.
Restricted or Hardship Driver’s License
Losing your driving privileges when you have important errands to do can be a significant inconvenience. So the law allows a driver charged or convicted with DUI to request a restricted or hardship driver’s license.
A restricted license gives a DUI offender limited driving privileges. It specifies when or where you can drive to, which is often places like work, school, or appointments for medical, drug, and alcohol programs.
Additionally, the restricted license requires you to use an ignition interlock device (IID). When using an IID, the vehicle can start only after you breathe into the machine with an alcohol-free breath.
As a first DUI offender, you can apply for a “restricted” or “hardship” driver’s license, which will allow you to start driving right away. And in case you chose not to apply for the restricted license, you will still need to use the IID for at least six months after the reinstatement of your license.
For a second conviction, the law allows you to apply for a restricted license immediately. Still, if you get convicted for drugged driving, you are eligible to apply after completing one year of the suspension. Additionally, the law requires all second DUIs to have IIDs for at least 12 months.
For a third conviction, you can also apply for a restricted license. However, if you get convicted with drugged driving, you can only apply after 12 months and must use the IID for at least two years.
DUI probation. If convicted with a DUI for the first time, you can get three-year informal probation, although it can sometimes be up to five years. The probation often comes with the condition that you complete a three-month DUI school consisting of 30 hours of classes. But if your BAC level was 0.20 percent or more, the program will run for six months and have 90 hours.
In the second DUI, you can get between three and five years of informal probation, with a condition requiring you to complete an 18- or 30 months DUI school. The judge decides which class to order.
Third, DUIs must complete 3-5 years of probation, and the judge can also order you to attend a DUI school for 30months.
Penalties for DUIs that Involve Injuries or Death
DUIs that resulted in injuries or death get more severe penalties compared to the standard DUIs. Police charge injury DUIs as either misdemeanors or felonies. If the police charge your DUI as a felony, you can get 16 to 48 months of jail time. And contingent on your history, a fine of between $390 and $5000.
On the other hand, if you’re involved in a DUI accident that resulted in death, you will be charged with Vehicular manslaughter or murder. Here, the penalties vary. You can get a year’s jail term and $1000 if convicted on a charge of vehicular manslaughter while drunk, or jailed for a duration ranging from 15 years up to life in state prison if convicted for second-degree murder.
Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) in California DUI Cases
California police use FSTs to enforce DUI laws and justify why they arrested you. FSTs usually precede breath tests. The FSTs comprise a series of mental and physical exercises intended to allow the officer to determine your physical ability, balance, or attention.
The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) endorsed a standardized FST procedure that comprises the walk-and-turn, horizontal gaze nystagmus, and one-leg stand.
DMV Hearing in California DUI Cases
The DMV hearing is an administrative hearing held at the DMV offices, and it’s separate from the criminal court trial. The DMV hearing determines if to suspend your driver’s license as a result of your having got arrested for DUI.
If arrested in California for DUI, the officer confiscates your driver’s license but gives you a “Notice of suspension.” The notice is a temporary license for 30 days and entitles you to a DMV hearing to prevent the suspension of your driver’s license. You must request a hearing within ten days of your arrest. Or else your license will be automatically suspended after 30 days, and you lose your right for a DMV hearing.
Sentence Enhancements in DUI in California
A California DUI penalty may be enhanced if there are aggravating circumstances at the time of the arrest. Examples of conditions that may lead to an enhanced DUI sentence are:
- Excessive blood alcohol above 0.15 percent
- Refusing to take a chemical test
- Having children under 14 years in the motor vehicle
- Repeat DUI offense, and
- Causing physical injury or property damage
Find a DUI Attorney Near Me
If you are arrested for DUI in Emerald Bay, contact your local DUI attorney at the Orange County DUI Attorney. Our Emerald Bay DUI attorney will review your case and plan on the possible defense strategies that can help you get a reduction of charges or a dismissal. Get in touch with us today at 949-377-2280.