The state of California is keen to reduce incidences of drunk driving and ensure that DUI offenders face the set penalties to stop them from committing DUI-related crimes. In 2016, the DMV suspended 134,595 licenses following convictions of drunk driving as per the Admin Per Se law (VC 23152). Note that not all DUI arrestees or suspects must end up being convicted - sometimes, the prosecution lacks enough evidence to prove that you are guilty. Also, the evidence presented might be too weak to warrant a conviction.

You are better positioned to fight your DUI charges and related cases such as the DMV hearing if you hire an attorney to represent you. If you are in Mission Viejo, the Orange County DUI Attorney is ready to defend you and protect your rights through competent legal representation.  

Two-Step Process

People facing charges of driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances have to prepare for two processes that determine their fate: the criminal court process and the DMV hearing. These proceedings happen separately, but they are equally important and therefore deserve a qualified attorney to handle. They involve:

  • Criminal court system – the prosecution plays a significant role to prove the charges leveled against you
  • DMV hearing – this is an informal administrative hearing where the DMV will deliberate on your driving privileges moving forward

Seeing that these proceedings are independent, the outcome of one has no bearing on the other, and your legal counsel must ensure you have adequate representation on both sides.

Let’s explore the common charges that you can face in California.

  1. Wet Reckless

A "wet reckless" carries lesser charges than a standard DUI, but you cannot be charged with this directly. A wet reckless charge is given as part of a plea bargain with the prosecution (Section 23103.5) after pleading no contest to the California Vehicle Code Section 23103. When this is granted, your record shows you were charged with reckless driving that is related to alcohol, marijuana, or controlled substances.

Since no driver is charged with a wet reckless, qualifying for this plea bargain only happens when:

  • The blood alcohol concentration was close to 0.08%
  • The prosecution has a weak case; for instance, the arrest was illegal

If there are jail or probation sentences, they are much lower, and typically, your professional licenses are likely to remain intact, and your driver's license may not be suspended. Even if the penalties for a "wet reckless" are much lower, plead no contest or enter a guilty plea before speaking to an experienced Mission Viejo DUI attorney. A wet reckless is considered a "priorable offense," which means it will count as a prior offense when deliberating sentencing for subsequent DUI charges.

  1. Misdemeanor DUI

Misdemeanor DUI charges usually ensue after the first or second arrest as long as there are no aggravating circumstances like being on probation for a previous DUI conviction. If someone else incurred injury, the judge could pile on additional misdemeanor charges or even felony charges depending on the extent of injuries. This charge depends on the level of BAC as well as other substances like marijuana, or club drugs.

  1. Prescription Drug DUI

Under California law, you could get in trouble for driving under the influence of legally obtained substances like painkillers. Most of these medications, including over-the-counter drugs, have side effects like drowsiness or dizziness, which interfere with the driver's ability to drive. Apart from pain medications, other medicines typically associated with this kind of DUI include antidepressants, antihistamines, sleep aids, anti-anxiety meds, and decongestants.

If you are apprehended for a suspected DUI when consuming these drugs, the officer may deem this a prescription drug DUI offense, which is punishable under California law. If convicted on drug prescription DUI, this charge remains on your criminal record for ten years, and it will adversely affect employment, finding insurance, and other efforts. More so, this conviction leaves you exposed to higher penalties if there are subsequent DUI charges. Having a qualified Mission Viejo DUI attorney by your side is vital to examine your case and negotiate a more amicable deal.

  1. Marijuana DUI

California allows the consumption of marijuana for medicinal use and recreationally, but this only means that law enforcement is more stringent on cracking down on people driving under the influence of this stimulant. Nonetheless, driving with marijuana in your system is still considered unlawful. DUI Marijuana Enforcement has grown in leaps and bounds, thus seeing more people charged for DUIs related to cannabis than ever before. More so, marijuana can stay in the body for up to a month, which heightens the risk of being arrested for this kind of DUI.

There is no legal limit for driving under the influence of marijuana in California, and according to the Orange County Crime Lab, the level of impairment must be examined on a case to case basis. The lack of a standard legal limit that is considered "safe for driving" is mainly due to insufficient studies on this matter. Back in 1986, research titled "Marijuana and Alcohol: A Driver Performance Study, A Final Report" had some debatable findings such as stoned people were better drivers. Determining the standard legal limit would require enough observational evidence, but this is yet to come forth.

If you are apprehended for this kind of DUI, pleading guilty will intensify things down the line should you be charged with drunk driving again, and every charge (second, third, fourth, or more DUI) carries a prison sentence. Seeing how aggressive the county is in handling marijuana DUI, hiring an attorney is the smartest move to avoiding landing in more problems in the future.

How Does Police Test for Marijuana?

A Drug Recognition Officer (DRE) administer sobriety tests to measure the alcohol limit, but using the same methods to test for marijuana is not reliable. Without a standard way of determining the level of marijuana, the police usually check for these signs:

  • Impairment of memory
  • The driver could be sleepy or drowsy
  • Changes in the mood
  • A distorted sense of time
  • An augmented appetite
  1. Commercial DUI

Drivers with Class A and Class B licenses facing DUI charges are treated more harshly than drivers facing regular DUIs. For example, they are subjected to a lower BAC threshold of 0.04 as per the California Vehicle Code Section 23152(d). The punishment is similar to what first-time offenders get but may involve having the commercial license suspended for at least 12 months. If there is another DUI charge of this nature, the DMV recommends taking away your commercial permit permanently.

Manslaughter DUI

If you cause an accident where one or more persons die in your vehicle or another car, this crime is classified as manslaughter DUI provided there is no malicious intent under Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the Vehicle Code. More so, manslaughter only applies if the fatalities were directly linked to the accident and no other reason, such as if the person developed complications in the course of treatment. When death is involved, the prosecutor will not be lenient on you and therefore, enlisting an attorney protects you from extreme penalties.

As per the Penal Code 191.5(a) PC, offenders of DUI manslaughter with gross negligence serve a jail sentence of one (1) year or serve four (4), six (6), or ten (10) years in state prison. If you are charged with manslaughter while inebriated, you face up to one (1) year in county jail, or a state prison sentence of up to sixteen (16) months, two (2) years or four (4) years.

  1. Underage DUI

Every state has enacted a zero tolerance policy for drunk driving among young people. According to the California Vehicle Code Section 23136, drivers under twenty-one (21) whose BAC is 0.01% or higher should be arrested for DUI. The charges racked up entail contravening Vehicle Code 23152 or 23140, among others and the driver can also be charged with possession of alcohol or other substances found in the car. Penalties for underage DUI include mandatory license suspension for twelve (12) months as per the registered BAC amount, possible jail sentence, monetary fines, probation, and compulsory DUI program.

The defendant will be required to indicate this conviction in their college application, which could mean automatic rejection in some colleges, and if you are currently enrolled, the school may inflict penalties. If you are pursuing a specialty area, you may be unable to complete school after a conviction.

  1. Out of State DUI

If you are apprehended and charged with driving under the influence, but you reside outside California, the case has more complications as your right to drive could be denied in Orange County and your home state. For this situation, you need a highly qualified DUI attorney to litigate your case in court and at the DMV hearing.

People with duo licenses can only lose driving privileges back home if their state is a signatory to the Interstate Driver's License Compact between forty-five (45) states. This agreement permits these states to share correspondence on drunk driving crimes, so offenders are treated accordingly.

  1. Felony DUI

California law is strict on fighting drunk driving and making the roads safer for everyone. A felony DUI charge is very common, but it must meet these requirements: the driver caused an accident that led to grave injuries or fatalities, and the driver has three (3) or more previous DUI arrests inside a decade.

In such circumstances, you will be charged with a felony DUI even if this current offense is a misdemeanor. This legal problem is more complicated than previous crimes, and the penalties could be life-altering. Do not gamble with your life; hire an experienced Mission Viejo DUI attorney to argue your case in the best manner possible.

Penalties for DUI in California

In California, the charges for drunk driving vary depending on whether you are a first-time offender or a repeat offender. Penalties increase with every subsequent DUI

  1. First DUI Charge

If this is the first time you have been apprehended for drunk driving, you will face the following charges:

  • Three (3) years of informal probation
  • Complete an alcohol program depending on your BAC level; under 0.15% (3 months); 0.15% to under 0.20% (six months); and 0.20% or higher (9 months).
  • One session of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) session
  • Pay monetary fines and penalties adding up to roughly two thousand ($2,000) dollars
  • California Driver License suspension for six (6) months but you may continue driving if the court issues an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) for six (6) months

Some people assume that a first-time DUI is not a big problem for them, so they plead guilty so that the problem can go away. This decision could have detrimental effects if you are charged with another DUI offense. Hiring a knowledgeable attorney is essential so they can examine your case and guide you through the legal process, so you don't accept more charges than necessary.

  1. Second DUI Charge

If you are charged with a second DUI offense, you can expect the fees and penalties to be much more stringent than the first round as follows:

  • Three (3) to five (5) years of informal probation
  • Paying monetary fines and penalties adding up to two thousand ($2,000) dollars
  • Spending ninety-six (96) hours to one (1) year in county jail or depending on circumstances, the judge may sentence you to forty-five (45) to ninety (90) days in county jail, which can be modified to house arrest or Caltrans. The District Attorney's office will seek additional time in the light of extenuating circumstances.
  • Complete a drug/alcohol program for eighteen (18) to thirty (30) months
  • Additional requirements for attending AA classes or do some form of community service
  • You may keep the right to drive but with an IID in place for one (1) year
  1. Third DUI Charge

People who have been convicted of two (2) or more serious felonies or violent crimes are given more prison sentences. For third-time offenders, the penalties are outlined below:

  • Three (3) to five (5) years of informal probation
  • Serve a minimum jail sentence of one hundred and twenty (120) days, but the District Attorney for Orange County starts at two hundred and seventy (270) days. This duration often increases by sixty (60) to ninety (90) days, thus making for a one-year jail sentence due to aggravating factors such as having active summary probation from a previous DUI conviction
  • Fines and penalties adding up to around two thousand eight hundred ($2,800) dollars
  • Complete a drug/alcohol program for thirty (30) months
  • If you keep driving privileges, the court installs an IID for two (2) years
  1. Fourth DUI Charge

The state of California classifies the fourth charge of DUI as a felony with corresponding penalties as follows:

  • Sixteen (16) months to two (2) years of prison custody
  • Fines and penalties adding up to approximately three thousand five hundred ($3,500) dollars
  • Driver's license revocation of four (4) years
  • Mandatory attendance of DUI school
  • Other assessments as deemed necessary

Penalties and assessments are not only based on the attending judge but on all district attorneys who handled the previous DUI arrests. Avoiding jail time is difficult but surely not impossible, but this depends on what strategy your attorney employs and your part to show the court that you are still acquiescent to rehabilitation. The stakes are high, and getting you off with no jail term or at least with a light sentence requires much work and to accomplish this feat, you will need the most qualified DUI attorney.

Best Defenses to Fight DUI Charges

Facing a DUI charge is a serious crime that comes with severe legal consequences as outlined above. That is why you need an experienced Mission Viejo DUI attorney in your corner so they can ensure your constitutional rights are upheld. Irrespective of the type of DUI you are facing, your attorney will fight these charges by mounting a defense aimed at getting you off the hook or at least pleading down your sentence.

In the case of a prescription DUI, the attorney could argue the arresting officer was biased if they say "you looked as if you were high." Appearing so does not prove that you were indeed driving under the influence. Another possible defense is that positive results of chemical testing in your system do not show you were inebriated. You could have taken these meds weeks ago, and the chemical compounds remained in your body after the fact.

The attorney can also challenge the legality of the police stop as compared to the guidelines for lawful police arrests outlined in the California Penal Code section §836. If the arresting officer pulled you over without a justifiable reason that you were contravening the law, the illegal stop infringed on your constitutional rights and the case is dismissed. If need be, your attorney could have the 911 calls, video and audio clips subpoenaed to question the officer's opinion of your case. Such matters are best handled by an experienced Mission Viejo DUI attorney to scrutinize the circumstances of your arrest to see if officer bias played a hand. 

Find an Orange County DUI Attorney Near Me

Being charged with any DUI cannot be taken lightly as the penalties, and other assessments can have effects throughout your life. Attempting to represent yourself could mean digging yourself further into a legal mess, not to mention the usual methods applied by officers to get suspected criminals off the streets. Our team at Orange County DUI Attorney in Mission Viejo has helped clients like you facing drunk driving charges and arrived at much better outcomes. If you or your loved one is in this legal position, contact us at 949-377-2280, so we can start helping you navigate this legal process.