DUI arrests are among the frequent cases that we handle in the Orange County area. However, some of these arrests may not be legal. Thus, you will need to get in touch with an attorney as soon as you are arrested to challenge the allegations leveled against you. If you are looking for a top-notch Westminster DUI attorney to represent you, you can contact us at the Orange County DUI Attorney immediately.
Understanding the Law on Drunk Driving
As earlier indicated, the state of California prohibits drunk driving for all drivers as well as drugged driving. In this article, we shall focus on drunk driving, the law on drunk driving, the consequences, and compensation a victim can seek.
The law has given a guideline or a limit to the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) a driver must not exceed if they are to drive. It is, however, essential to understanding the BAC levels are just one element of drunk driving. Different people have various alcohol tolerances meaning a person may have low BAC levels, but they may be impaired. If you are stopped for suspected drunk driving, you may be subjected to field sobriety tests. If you fail field sobriety tests, even when your BAC is low, you can still be prosecuted and convicted for drunk driving.
For regular drivers, if your BAC level is 0.08% or over, you are past the legal limit and can be charged with drunk driving. Drivers below the age of 21 have their BAC levels set much lower. At this age, if you are arrested for driving with a BAC of 0.01% or higher, you will also face charges on drunk driving.
Commercial drivers are held at higher standards because of the nature of their jobs. The BAC limit for a commercial driver is much lower than those of a regular driver. The law prohibits commercial drivers from operating a vehicle when their BAC is 0.04% or higher.
Sometimes a person can be charged with a DUI offense depending on their BAC levels instead of their impairment level. This is described as per se DUI. As earlier stated, different people have different alcohol tolerance. This means the quantity of alcohol one drinks to get to the legal limit may be different from the volume another takes. Various factors have been known to contribute to this. These are:
- The gender of the person. Males are believed to have a higher alcohol tolerance compared to their female counterparts
- Body size is another significant factor. Big bodied individuals can take more elevated amounts of alcohol compared to small-bodied individuals
- The number of drinks taken and their strength. Different drinks have different alcohol content or strength.
- The duration taken to consume alcohol. When alcohol is consumed over a very short period and in large quantities, the person will be more impaired, and their BAC will be higher. Consuming alcohol over a prolonged period reduces the BAC levels.
- Whether a driver has eaten or not. When alcohol is consumed over an empty stomach, the BAC level is reached much faster compared to when consumed on a full stomach
- Medical conditions can affect a person’s BAC levels. Various medical conditions are known to affect the metabolism of alcohol in the body.
When a person is arrested for suspected drunk driving, they are likely to face DUI charges. In California, DUI offenses are typically a misdemeanor, but the presence of certain factors can turn a would-be a misdemeanor to a felony offense. These factors will include if the drunk driving offense resulted in a fatality or significant injuries to other people. An accident caused by a drunk driver can be severe to result in substantial injuries or loss of life. When this happens, the driver would be prosecuted on felony charges that carry very harsh penalties.
DUI offenses are priorable in California. This means that your DUI record within a period of ten years is used to determine your penalties. A first-time offense carries fewer penalties compared to a second-time offender. The more a driver repeats a DUI offense, the stricter the penalties become. A fourth offense within a period of ten years, even without the aggravating factors discussed above, becomes an automatic felony. However, it is crucial to understand that even a 1st-time charge can be prosecuted as a felony if the discussed aggravating factors apply to the offense.
Drunk Driver Offenses and the Possible Penalties
The state of California, as earlier discussed, prohibits drunk driving. If one is arrested for suspected drunk driving, DUI charges will be brought against him or her. The charges a driver will face depend mainly on the circumstances of the offense and whether or not it is a repeat offense. The penalties also depend on the same elements. Although the penalties for DUI offenses are harsh, felony penalties are more severe.
For a driver to be arrested for drunk driving, there must be a reason why the officer stopped them, often referred to as the probable cause. A lot of arrests are made at DUI checkpoints or when a driver is arrested for other offenses. Often, different police departments announce that they will have a DUI checkpoint at a particular location. This is acceptable in the law because it discourages drunk driving.
As the checkpoints are put up, a system is established on how vehicles will be stopped. This is to avoid a person claiming that they were targeted or there was no probable cause to stop them. Lack of probable cause is often used as a defense in drunk driving cases.
A police officer can stop a driver because of other traffic violations, and in the process, the driver can be arrested for drunk driving. When a driver disregards a red light or has a broken tail light, they are likely to be stopped for those offenses. Other times, a driver could be driving recklessly or showing signs of impairment on the road. All these are probable reasons that one would be stopped.
Upon stopping, an officer will often engage the driver in a conversation regarding the offense that has led to being pulled over. In the process, the officer will be on the lookout for various signs of drunk driving. If these signs are available, an officer can ask a driver to submit to field sobriety tests (FST) to establish their impairment. However, the law does not require you to agree to take an FST because the results can be used to convict you of a DUI offense. Refusal of taking a field sobriety test will not be used against you.
However, if the officer is convinced that you are driving intoxicated by alcohol even when you refuse to submit to an FST, they can still legally arrest. Once at the police station, various things will happen as well as further investigations to determine if you were drunk driving. One of the things will be submitting to a mandatory breath test. Later, we shall discuss why taking a breath test is compulsory under the law of implied consent and the consequences to your case if you don’t.
When a person is arrested for drunk driving suspicion, it is crucial to hire a DUI lawyer to defend you against the allegations. Here, we discuss the various charges that can be brought against a drunk driver, their penalties, and possible defense strategies for them.
First DUI Offense
When you get arrested for suspected drunk driving, charges on the offense will be brought against you. Typically, a first DUI offense is prosecuted as a misdemeanor unless there are factors of the offense that makes it a felony. The possible penalties for a misdemeanor first DUI include:
- Informal probation for 3-5 years
- County jail sentence for not more than six months
- Cash fines between $390 and $1,000
- An order to attend a DUI approved program or school for three months and in some cases nine months
- Being ordered to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in your car for six months. This is important, especially when a driver wants to keep driving with a restricted license. The court can also order a suspension of your driver’s license for between six and ten months.
After an arrest on DUI allegations in California, the arresting officer takes your license and forwards it to the DMV, which imposes a temporary suspension on it. In the meantime, the officer issues you with a provisional license pending your DMV hearing should you request for it. Typically, from the day of arrest, a driver has ten days to ask for an administrative hearing from the DMV. This hearing is usually to convince the DMV not to suspend your license. If you fail to request a hearing within the given window, your license is automatically suspended for four months.
Hiring a Westminster DUI attorney immediately you are arrested for these charges is essential if you want to beat the allegations. Additionally, your lawyer can request the DMV hearing on your behalf and represent you to increase your chances of winning the hearing.
Second DUI Offense
A driver is charged with a second DUI offense if they already have an existing or prior DUI conviction. Again, a second offense on drunk driving is prosecuted as a misdemeanor. But, depending on the circumstances of the offense, it may be prosecuted as a felony. When prosecuted as a misdemeanor, the defendant is likely to face the following penalties:
- The defendant can be sentenced to informal or summary probation
- The defendant can be jailed for between 96 hours and one year in county prison.
- The defendant is ordered to pay a fine of between $390 and $1,000
- The defendant is ordered to attend and complete a DUI school program lasting 18 months or 30 months
- The defendant will be ordered to mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device in their vehicle for a year. This is necessary when a defendant wishes to apply for a restricted license to enable them to keep driving even when their license is on suspension.
Just like in the first DUI, the DMV will suspend your license if you do not request a DMV hearing in ten days upon your arrest.
Third DUI Offense
When you have two other DUI convictions, a third arrest will be prosecuted as a third offense of drunk driving. Again, this is a misdemeanor offense unless there are elements that make it a felony. When you get convicted of a third DUI offense, the penalties are more severe compared to those of a first or second offense. These penalties will include:
- A probation sentence of between three and five years
- County imprisonment of between 120 days and a year
- Payment of fines of between $390 and $1,000
- Attending and completing a DUI school program for thirty months
- Being ordered to mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device for 2 years. This will enable the driver to apply and get a restricted driver’s license to drive anywhere.
- The DMV will brand the driver as a habitual traffic offender.
The DMV conditions as a third offender are similar to those of all the offenses before. But, the suspension of your license is longer.
Fourth DUI Offense
An offender, on the fourth time, will receive harsher penalties because they have multiple prior convictions on DUI offenses. A fourth DUI offense is prosecuted as a felony. The sentencing, in this case, is not standard but will differ from one situation to the next. Sentencing for a fourth conviction will depend on the BAC level of the driver, aggravating factors to the offense, prior convictions, and when they were committed. The law provides for sentencing guidelines for this offense as follows:
- The defendant on conviction can face 16 months, or 2, or 4 years imprisonment
- The defendant will have pay cash fine ranging between $390 and $1,000
- The DMV will brand the defendant as a Habitual Traffic Offender for three years
- The driver’s license of the defendant will be revoked for four years. However, it is possible to continue enjoying driving privileges as long as you have installed an IID in your car.
A repeat offender, especially a fourth-time offender, is zealously prosecuted on felony charges. This means to fight against these charges; the defendant requires aggressive defense strategies from their lawyer.
Drunk Driver Causing Injuries
A drunk driver can be involved in or cause an accident that results in injuries to other people aside from themselves. The offense is a wobbler one, according to VEH 23153. This means the circumstances of the case can lead a prosecutor to bring either a misdemeanor or felony charges against the drunk driver. The criminal background of the driver also contributes to the type of charges leveled against them in this case.
If you are prosecuted on misdemeanor charges, you will face various penalties when the offense resulted in injuries of others. These penalties include:
- Summary or informal probation lasting between three and five years
- County jail imprisonment of between five days and a year
- Cash fines ranging between $390 and $5,000
- Attending and completing a DUI school program for 3 or 18 or 30 months
- Mandatory installation of an IID
- You will be ordered to pay restitution to the injured victims.
A drunk driver can also cause an accident that results in significant injuries to other people. When this happens, the driver will be prosecuted on felony charges that carry more significant penalties as compared to those other DUI offenses. A conviction of felony DUI resulting in injuries will carry the following penalties:
- State imprisonment for a period ranging between 16 months and 10 years. Additionally, the defendant will serve consecutive sentences ranging between a year and six years. This is depended on the number of people injured and how significant their injuries are.
- According to the law on three strikes in California, the defendant will earn a strike on their record
- The defendant will be ordered to pay cash fines ranging between $1,015 and $5,000
- The defendant will be ordered to attend and complete a DUI approved school program that will last between 18 months and 30 months
- The DMV will brand the defendant as a habitual traffic offender for a period of three years
- Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device lasting between two and three years. With an IID, the defendant can apply to get a restricted driver’s license that will allow them to drive anywhere.
- The defendant will be ordered to pay the victims of the accident restitution for the injuries sustained.
DUI Probation and its Conditions
One of the penalties following a DUI conviction, as discussed above, is probation. Depending on the circumstances of the offense, a judge can decide to sentence the drunk driver to probation. Probation, however, has various conditions that must be fulfilled, but a deviation from them can lead to its revocation. When you are sentenced to probation, it will be accompanied by the following conditions:
- The driver is prohibited from driving when their blood has any measurable alcohol
- You must agree to take a chemical test if you are arrested on drunk driving suspicion while on probation
- You are prohibited from committing a crime during this period
Other conditions to probation depend on various circumstances of the case. Some of these conditions may include:
- Being ordered to attend Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings
- Participating in a victim impact program such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
- Restitution in case your driving resulted in an accident that injured others
When you violate any of these conditions, the probation may be revoked, and the judge instead sentences you to jail time.
The Law of Implied Consent
The state of California adheres to the law of implied consent. This means that any driver lawfully arrested on drunk driving charges in California must submit to a breath test to determine their BAC level. A drunk driver arrested on these allegations if they refuse to the breathalyzer test will face stiffer penalties.
One of the most severe penalties, when you decline to take this test, is the automatic suspension of your license by the DMV. This means that you cannot qualify for a DMV hearing to convince them not to suspend your license. Also, you cannot qualify for a restricted license. Because of this, a DUI lawyer will advise you to submit to this test when lawfully arrested for a DUI.
Legal Defenses for Drunk Driving
A driver facing drunk driving charges needs to hire the services of a Westminster DUI attorney to help fight against these allegations. Your lawyer can formulate various strategies that will help you fight these allegations.
Your lawyer can challenge that your arrest was unlawful and that the officer had no probable reason to stop you. Another argument may be centered on the BAC test results. Your lawyer can challenge the procedure of carrying out the BAC testing and if the guidelines under Title 17 were followed. Underlying medical conditions have been known to interfere with the blood alcohol levels or the alcohol found in breath. Should you be suffering from any of these conditions, you must inform your lawyer because it can be an excellent defense strategy.
With an experienced lawyer, it is possible to challenge the evidence against you such that it can create a doubt in the prosecutor’s case. This can result in a total dismissal of the allegations or lesser charges or reduced penalties for the defendant.
Find a Westminster DUI Attorney Near Me
A drunk driver, when arrested, will automatically face DUI charges. Whether the charges are a misdemeanor or felony, an excellent defense is critical to fighting against the allegations. Contact us at the Orange County DUI Attorney to talk to an experienced Westminster DUI Attorney at 949-377-2280.