DUI laws in California are among the strictest in the country. A DUI conviction may not only entail jail or prison sentence and court fines but also additional punishments that may not apply in other criminal cases. These additional punishments may include suspension/revocation of your driver’s license, a requirement to install an Ignition Interlock Device in your vehicle, a requirement to undergo DUI school, among others. We at the Orange County DUI Attorney advise you to get in touch with our local Tustin DUI attorney if you are arrested or are being investigated for DUI. Our attorneys have an in-depth knowledge of the local court processes and defense strategies in relation to driving under the influence and related issues.
California DUI Investigations and Arrests
Investigations are usually the first step in a criminal process. In California, DUI investigations begin in either of the following ways:
- A police officer is called in a hit and run scene, where you are involved
- A police officer pulls you over for violating traffic rules (for example, you are driving at excessive speed)
- A traffic officer notices defects in your vehicle, such as faulty headlight, and pulls you over
Regardless of the situation, the officer will subject you to field sobriety tests after 1) noticing that you are emitting an alcoholic smell from your breath and 2) noticing that you have intoxication signs. Note that an officer cannot merely arrest you for DUI out of these suspicions without confirming them. Therefore, he or she will ask you to undertake a field sobriety test and/or a Preliminary Alcohol Screening Test. These tests will give preliminary or initial confirmation that you are driving under the influence. Hence, the officer will arrest you under VEH 23152 (a).
After being arrested, the officer will have to subject you to a chemical test (usually a blood test) to confirm the percentage of alcohol in your blood. These tests are crucial in the DUI process, and they are conducted in police custody or a hospital.
Blood analysis may take several days (unlike breath tests) since they have to be sent to a lab. Note that at this time, you are already arrested for VEH 23152 (a) driving under the influence, but the following outcomes will determine if you will get additional charges:
- Blood test results show that your BAC level exceeds 0.08%. In this case, you will receive an additional charge of driving with a BAC of 0.08% or higher under VEH 23152 (b)
- Additional blood or urine tests may make you liable to VEH 23152 (e) driving under the influence of drugs (DUID)
- Refusal to take a chemical test
The officer will then book and release you immediately or place in you in custody for a few hours. Before releasing you, you may be required to write a written citation showing that you will avail yourself in court for your DUI proceedings. You may also be released on bail, where you are required to pay a certain amount of money or use a bail bond agency before you are arrested.
Finally, the arresting officer will write a report for review by the Orange County prosecuting agency. The agency will either charge you for DUI in court or decline to charge you. Please note that it is vital to keep in touch with a Tustin DUI attorney if you are being investigated or arrested for DUI. This is because there are several consequences depending on your actions or the police actions that you may not understand. For instance, there are instances when you can refuse to submit to a chemical test while there are others when it is a criminal offense to refuse to take the test. Also, there are various policing errors that we can use in your defense, such as inappropriate arrest procedures.
Is It Necessary to Hire a DUI Attorney?
Orange County has many cases of DUI arrests, and so are the number of DUI attorneys. Similarly, the court can assign you a public defender if you cannot afford to hire a private Tustin DUI attorney. You also have the option of representing yourself in a California criminal case. Therefore, you may be confused between which option is suitable, especially if you are experiencing a DUI investigation and arrest for the first time. However, there are various consequences that come with each decision.
Firstly, going it alone is not ideal. As you will see later, California DUI laws are complex, and you will not have an easy time understanding them. Unless you are an experienced and specialized DUI defense attorney, we advise you not to try to represent yourself. In fact, even experienced attorneys will hire other specialized attorneys to represent them in criminal cases.
Secondly, public defenders may be an ideal choice for you because they understand the criminal justice system and have established a reputation in criminal matters, but there are other limitations. For instance, public defenders do not have enough resources and time to properly devote themselves to your case. Moreover, the court will assign you a random attorney, meaning that there may not be trust between you and the attorney.
Therefore, we advise you to hire a specialized DUI attorney to represent you. Even though this option will cost your finances way over the first two options, you would rather pay for a private attorney than face a DUI conviction that comes with hefty penalties. Even if you are convicted, a private attorney may help reduce your DUI charges or negotiate for lesser penalties.
Please note that merely hiring an attorney may not make a huge difference. Instead, you should hire someone that is specialized in California DUI cases and criminal processes.
California DUI Court and DMV DUI Proceeding
An arresting officer will notify the Department of Motor Vehicles that they will suspend your driver’s license for thirty days after your arrest. Before the suspension, you will be using a temporary license provided by the officer.
Note that whether the court finds you guilty of DUI or not, the DMV proceedings are independent of the DUI court, and your license suspension or revocation may still take place.
You are required to request a DUI hearing within ten days of your arrest. If you don’t do so, the DMV will suspend your license in thirty days from the day of your arrest.
Unlike a court proceeding that is often complex and involves many players (you, your defense attorney, the prosecutor, the arresting officer for testimony, judge, and possibly a jury), DMV proceedings are not that complex. For instance, you may opt for your attorney to represent you in the hearing instead of physically showing up, unless when you are required to do so.
Additionally, the DMV only deals with driving license matters. Thus, a suspension or revocation of your license does not confirm that you are guilty of driving under the influence; the court must provide sufficient evidence that you are guilty of a California DUI for you to be guilty.
The Basic California DUI Laws
Similar to other States, California punishes DUI offenses depending on the severity of the crime. Thus, there are simple/basic laws that regulate DUI offenses as well as aggravated and advanced laws for more severe offenses.
The major aspect that determines the severity of a DUI offense is the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit. BAC is the legal limit of alcohol in your blood, which will lead to a DUI charge if your blood alcohol level exceeds the limit. Under VEH 23152, the BAC limit for regular drivers is 0.08%, 0.04% for commercial drivers, and 0.01% for underage drivers. This gives us three basic DUI laws in California, which are regular DUI, commercial DUI, and underage DUI laws.
Note that an underage driver in California is a driver whose age is below 21 years. Commercial drivers are drivers of commercial vehicles such as trucks and for-hire vehicles. On the other hand, regular drivers are drivers of non-commercial vehicles such as personal cars. Furthermore, DUI punishments are stricter for commercial drivers compared to regular drivers. For instance, you may end up losing your commercial driver’s license after a commercial DUI conviction, which will affect your employment.
DUI as a Priorable Offense and Misdemeanor Punishments
A “priorable” offense is an offense whose subsequent punishments depend on the previous similar offense. In this case, the punishments for a subsequent DUI offense will depend (and will be more severe) on the previous DUI offenses with ten years. In DUI cases, ten years is known as the lookback period, and it is counted from the first conviction.
You will be liable for 1st time DUI punishments if you don’t have a previous similar conviction. You will be liable for 2nd time DUI if you are convicted for the second time within ten years of your previous DUI conviction. A similar case applies to 3rd and 4th times DUI charges.
Generally, the first three DUI charges (within ten years) are punished as misdemeanors, apart from aggravating circumstances, as we will discuss further in this article. On the other hand, the fourth DUI offense is usually a felony, unless the prosecutor deems to charge it otherwise.
Here are the punishments for a 1st time DUI:
- Court fines that range from 390 dollars to 1000 dollars
- Jail sentence that may last six months
- Informal probation that may last three years (in some cases, this probation may last five years)
- You may be required to undergo a drug or alcohol education program or both for three to nine months. This education program must be approved by the court.
For a 2nd time DUI, you will face the following punishments:
- Between 96 hours and one year of a jail sentence
- Fines of between 390 dollars and 1000 dollars
- A minimum of three years of summary probation
- You may be required to undergo a DUI school for 18 months to 30 months
For a 3rd time DUI, you face the following punishments:
- A minimum jail sentence of 120 days and a maximum of one year
- Maximum informal probation of five years
- Drug/alcohol school for thirty months
- Fines that range from 390 dollars to 1000 dollars
The Department of Motor Vehicles may also suspend or restrict your driver’s license: For the first offense, your license will be suspended for six to ten months. Otherwise, you can drive to and from work or school if you install an Ignition Interlock Device in your car. If your license is not reinstated, it will be converted to a restricted one after ten months. For the second offense, you MUST install an IID for a year, or the DMV will suspend your license for two years. If the license is not reinstated within one year, it will be converted to a restricted license. For the third offense, you MUST install an IID for two years, or the Department of Motor Vehicles will suspend your license for three years, which will be converted to a restricted one after eighteen months.
Note that for a third-time misdemeanor DUI offense, the DMV will name you a habitual traffic offender.
As we mentioned before, DUIs are usually misdemeanors. However, prosecutors may level the charges as felonies or wobbler offenses (offenses that can be punished as either misdemeanors or felonies). This happens if there are aggravating circumstances, which are circumstances that will enhance your possible punishments.
The common aggravating circumstances in DUI cases are as follows:
- A 4th time DUI within ten years
- DUI with a minor in your vehicle. In this case, you may as well face charges for both VEH 23152 DUI and PEN 273 child endangerment. We advise you to hire a reputable Tustin DUI attorney that is well-versed in both child endangerment and DUI laws to possibly have your charges reduced
- DUI causing injury
- DUI hit and run
- Violating zero-tolerance law. This law requires that underage drivers should not operate a vehicle with a BAC that exceeds .01%. In this case, the underage driver may be punished under both regular DUI and underage DUI laws
- A blood alcohol content of (or about) 0.15%
In the above cases, the punishments will depend on your criminal history and the specific circumstances of your arrest.
If your case is leveled as a misdemeanor (for a DUI with injury), your punishments will involve fines that range from 390 dollars to 5000 dollars, between five days and one year of a jail sentence, informal probation that may last five years, restitution to the victim(s), and attending a drug/alcohol school for three months, eighteen months, or thirty months. Also, the DMV may suspend your license for one year, which you can avoid by installing an IID.
If your case is leveled as a felony, the following punishments will apply:
- State prison sentence for 16 months, two years, or three years
- The DMV will designate you as a Habitual Traffic Offender
- The DMV will suspend your license for a maximum of four years. However, you can drive after installing an IID for one year
- Court fines and assessment fees that range from 390 dollars to 1000 dollars
Note that DUIs that involve death may lead to life in prison.
Alternative Sentencing in California
There are several alternative sentencing plans that lawyers who don’t specialize in CA DUI defense may not know. Thus, we advise you to hire a Tustin DUI attorney that is knowledgeable in all DUI sentencing options in California. This way, you may not go through the harsh jail or prison conditions if you are convicted of a DUI offense.
Some of the common alternatives to a jail or prison sentence are as follows:
- A sentence in a city or private jail
- House arrest/electronic monitoring
- Roadside work in Cal-Trans
- Community service
Note that probation is also common in DUI sentencing (which involved summary/informal probation for misdemeanors and formal probation for felonies). However, you must adhere to all conditions (which are known as probation conditions) as set out by the court. Some of these conditions are as follows:
- You must always submit to a chemical test whenever you are required to do so
- You should always drive with no alcohol content in your blood
- You should not commit any other offense
- Restitute the injured parties
- Attend Narcotic or Alcoholic Anonymous meetings
- Take part in MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) program
Probation conditions will depend on the specific circumstances of your case. Also, you are liable to criminal charges for violating the probation conditions. If you violate these conditions, the court may take several measures, including reinstating your original prison/jail sentence, additional probation time, and additional fees.
Hire a Tustin DUI Attorney Near Me
We at the Orange County DUI Attorney understands the complexities associated with DUI investigations and arrests in addition to DMV issues. We advise you to hire a reputable attorney as soon as you are being investigated or once you are arrested. If you are looking for a reputable DUI attorney in Tustin, get in touch with us today at 949-377-2280.