California laws on drunk driving are very stringent. You can face an arrest and be charged for DUI if you operate a vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or when your driving conduct is impaired by alcohol or drugs. Drunk driving is charged under California Vehicle Code 23152(a), and a conviction attracts severe legal penalties. In addition to spending time behind bars and paying hefty fines, a conviction under this statute will attract a driver's license suspension. This could significantly impact your life and ability to carry on daily activities.
If you or a loved one faces criminal charges for driving under the influence, building a defense as soon as possible would be wise. Battling DUI charges can be complicated, especially when you are a first offender with no experience in the legal process. Therefore, seeking and retaining the services of a skilled DUI attorney is crucial. At Foos Gavin Law Firm, we offer experienced legal guidance for all our clients facing DUI charges in Sacramento, CA, to ensure the best possible outcome.
Overview of DUI in California
California has some of the most stringent DUI laws in the country. California Penal Code 23152(a) makes it an offense to operate a motor vehicle while under alcohol or drugs. A DUI criminal case begins when a traffic officer stops you at a DUI stop or on suspicion of drunk driving. Some factors that could cause an officer to stop you for a DUI investigation include reckless driving, speeding, and avoiding red lights. After the stop, the law enforcement officer will observe your conduct and perform a field sobriety test. Legally, the field sobriety test should last for up to fifteen minutes.
If you fail or perform poorly in the field test, the officer will proceed to a Breathalyzer test. A Breathalyzer is a device in which you blow to determine the amount of alcohol in your breath. If your Breathalyzer results indicate that your BAC is 0.08% or higher, you could face an arrest. At the police station, a blood sample is taken and sent to the lab to determine the blood alcohol content. After confirming your BAC using the blood test, the prosecutor will file DUI charges against you.
Before you face a conviction for DUI, the prosecution must prove the following elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You were driving a motor vehicle. The first DUI element that must be clear to obtain a conviction is that you were driving a car. This element is satisfied when the state shows some movement of the car. If you were sitting in the vehicle and the evidence of your driving is not clear, you cannot be found guilty of the offense.
- At the time of driving, you were under the influence. A person is considered under alcohol influence if their BAC exceeds the legal limit. Different drivers have a specific BAC limit for operating a vehicle in California. It is illegal to drive with a 0.08% BAC with a standard driver's license. If you operate on a commercial driver's license, having a BAC OF 0.04% or higher could result in an arrest and prosecution. For underage drivers, the legal BAC is 0.01%. Additionally, you could be charged under this statute if your driving conduct is impaired by alcohol or drug use.
Penalties for DUI in California Vehicle Code 23152(a)
Simple DUI is charged as a misdemeanor in California. The penalties you face following a conviction under this statute will vary depending on the following factors:
- Circumstances of your case. A defendant who faces a conviction for DUI where they caused an accident or injuries to a third party is likely to face harsher penalties than one who faces a simple DUI.
- Your criminal history. California DUI laws are strict on repeat offenders. Having a prior conviction for DUI or wet reckless in your record may enhance your penalties for subsequent convictions.
First offense DUI
A first offense DUI conviction attracts the following penalties:
- A jail sentence ranges from forty-eight hours to six months. If the judge sentences you to probation, you may avoid jail time.
- Fines not exceeding $1,000
- Six months driver's license suspension. The court or the DMV can trigger a driver's license suspension. If the two suspensions overlap, you must complete both before reinstating your license.
- Misdemeanor probation
Second Offense DUI
If you have one prior conviction for DUI, a second offense will be punishable by:
- A jail sentence of up to one year
- Fines and penalty assessment not exceeding $1,000
- A two years license suspension triggered by the court and an additional one-year suspension imposed by the DMV if you love the DMV hearing
- Up to three years of informal probation with a requirement to complete thirty months of DUI school
Third Offense DUI
You face a conviction for a third DUI if you have two prior convictions for DUI or wet reckless within the past ten years. A conviction, in this case, will attract the following penalties:
- A $1,000 fine
- A maximum jail sentence of up to one year
- A three years court-imposed driver's license suspension
- Three to five years of formal probation with strict conditions
A defendant with three or more prior DUI convictions will be charged with felony DUI under California VC 23152(a). Such a conviction will cause you to speed up to four years in state prison and pay up to $1,000 in fines.
DUI Causing Injuries
If you cause an accident where a third party was injured while driving under the influence, you will be charged with a wobbler. The offense can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. Depending on the level of injury to the victim and your criminal history, DUI causing injuries attracts a minimum prison sentence of six months and a maximum of $5,000 in fines.
When a person dies due to drunk driving conduct, you could face additional charges for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated or second-degree murder. A conviction for these offenses may cause you to spend fifteen years in state prison.
DUI Aggravating Factors
If present in your case, aggravating factors are circumstances that could increase the penalties you stand to suffer after a conviction. The following are some typical DUI aggravating factors:
- Failure to submit to the chemical tests.
- Had a blood alcohol content of 0.15% at the time of the arrest.
- Driving over the speed limit.
- Causing an accident while DUI.
- Being under the age of twenty-one years at the time of DUI.
- Driving under the influence with a minor under fourteen years in the vehicle.
California DUI Probation
If you face a DUI conviction under California VC 23152(a), the court may sentence you to probation. Often, probation is an alternative to spending time in jail, and it lasts for three to five years for a misdemeanor DUI offense. Whenever you are sentenced to probation after a DUI, the judge will impose various conditions depending on whether you are convicted for a first, second, or third offense. Common misdemeanor DUI probation conditions include:
- Payment of fines of up to $1,000.
- Avoid committing additional crimes while on probation.
- Agreement to submit to random DUI breath and blood tests if you are stopped on suspicion of drunk driving.
- Refrain from operating a vehicle with a measurable amount of alcohol in your blood. California imposes a Zero-tolerance law on individuals on probation for DUI. A violation of this law will attract a mandatory one-year driver's license suspension.
In addition to the above conditions, the judge may order that you install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle while on probation. The IDD is a device attached to the dashboard of your vehicle and allows the car to start only when the driver provides an alcohol-free breath sample. The period within which you have to retain the IDD will vary depending on the circumstances of your case. Often, this condition will be imposed when:
- You failed to submit to a chemical test following a DUI arrest.
You wish to continue driving your vehicle on a
- Restricted driver's license.
- You are convicted for DUI with a BAC 0f 0.15 or greater.
- You are a DUI repeat offender.
Driver's License Suspension after a DUI conviction
A conviction for drunk driving attracts severe penalties. The most feared consequence of a drunk driving conviction in California is the suspension or revocation of the driver's license. If your license is suspended, you will not be able to operate your vehicle during the time of suspension. Inability to drive your vehicle may cause significant inconvenience to your life. In California, there are two main types of driver's license suspension:
Court Triggered License Suspension
The court-triggered driver's license suspension is applied if you are found guilty of drunk driving under VC 23152(a). However, the judge does not suspend. After the conviction, the court will inform the Department of Motor Vehicle about the outcome of your case, and the DMV is responsible for suspending your license. The court-triggered driver's license suspension lasts for six months for a first offense, two years for a second offense, and three years for a third or subsequent DUI conviction.
If you can have your DUI reduced to wet reckless or another offense that does not involve drunk driving, you can escape the mandatory license suspension. If you suffer a court-triggered suspension for a first DUI, the court may allow you to operate your vehicle with the condition of installing an ignition interlock device on the vehicle.
Administrative Driver's License Suspension
The DMV triggers the second type of driver's license suspension following a DUI arrest. During a DUI arrest, the arresting officer will take away your license and issue a notification that allows you to drive for the next thirty days. The DMV does not suspend your license immediately. But instead, they give you up to ten days to request a DMV hearing where you can challenge the suspension.
A DMV hearing is held in the DMV office, and the burden of proof required in such a hearing is less than the one needed to prove your guilt in criminal court. If you request the hearing within the stipulated time, the DMV will put your license suspension on hold. During this hearing, you are entitled to:
- Testify on your behalf.
- Recent witnesses, including the arresting officer.
- Review and challenge the evidence presented against you.
- Cross-examine witnesses.
Some of the ways you can win the DMV hearing are by challenging the results of the BAC test or attacking the arresting officer's conduct. If you fail to submit to the blood and breath tests, it may be challenging to navigate the DMV hearing. However, you can argue that you were not informed about the consequences of failing to take the tests.
After reviewing all the evidence presented in the hearing, the DMV officer will either follow through with the suspension of your license or set aside the action. If your license is not suspended following the DMV hearing, you can continue to operate your vehicle while you await the outcome of your DUI case.
While the DMV and criminal court hearings are independent, escaping the DMV license suspension may help convince the judge to dismiss your criminal court. While you navigate both the DMV and court hearings, it would be wise to have the guidance of a skilled DUI attorney by your side.
Defenses against Drunk Driving Charges in California
Driving under alcohol is a severe offense whose conviction can result in life-changing penalties. Fortunately, facing an arrest and charges under VC 23152(a) will not always result in a conviction. There is a variety of defenses you can use to fight the charges and avoid a conviction or have your charges reduced, including:
Argue that the Symptoms of Intoxication do not Equal DUI
Your physical appearance at the DUI stop plays a significant role in an investigation. Some of the signs of intoxication that a traffic officer may be looking for when they stop your vehicle include:
- Slurred speech
- Red, watery eyes
- Strong alcohol odor from your mouth or your vehicle
- A flushed face
- Unsteady gait
While the above signs may indicate that you are intoxicated, they could also be signs of a cold, fatigue, or even allergies. A skilled DUI lawyer can help you argue that the signs noticed by the officer resulted from something other than alcohol use.
A Field Sobriety Test does not Accurately Measure Impairment.
After observing your physical appearance, the arresting officer will conduct a field sobriety test. In addition to the chemical tests, the field sobriety test results are a substantial piece of evidence in a DUI prosecution. Some of the most common field sobriety tests include the one-leg stand and walk and turn test. In most cases, lack of balance may be viewed as intoxication.
However, your attorney can argue that the FST was affected by fatigue, nerves, and lack of natural physical coordination.
Violation of Title Code 17 Regulations
California Code of Regulations governs how DUI breath and blood tests should be taken, and the requirements include:
- A fifteen minutes field sobriety test before proceeding to chemical tests.
- Proper training of individuals conducting the tests.
- Constant replacement or calibration of the Breathalyzer device.
- Proper administration of the chemical tests.
- Correct collection handling and storage of the blood samples.
Failure to follow regulations could contaminate the samples and produce inaccurate results. If you can prove that the arresting officer did not follow title 17 regulations, the evidence collected from these tests cannot be used against you.
Bad driving Does Not Equals Drunk Driving
One of the first elements of your case that prosecutors focus on during a DUI prosecution is your driving pattern. In most cases, the traffic officers will stop your vehicle for conduct such as speeding, swerving from lane to lane, and avoiding red lights. Unfortunately, many traffic violations are committed by sober drivers, and your driving pattern may not be a reliable predictor of drunk driving. Therefore, you can argue that your bad driving was not related to alcohol use.
Rising BAC Defense
Rising blood alcohol is a common defense in DUI cases. If your BAC was on the rise at the time of arrest, your chemical test results may be inaccurate. A DUI investigation could take a while, from the fifteen-minute field sobriety test to the interrogations. With the guidance of your attorney, you can argue that your BAC rose above the legal limit during the investigation period.
Offenses Related to California Vehicle Code 23152(a)
Some of the crimes that are related to DUI and could be charged alongside or instead of the crime include:
Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID)
California Vehicle Code 23152(e) criminalizes the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs. A drug is defined as any substance other than alcohol that could negatively impact your muscles, brain, and nervous system for this statute. A drug can either be illegal substances like cocaine and heroin or prescription medication that impair your driving.
DUID cases are prosecuted differently from DUI cases. There is no limit like the one specified for blood alcohol content. For such a case, you will be required to give a blood sample taken to the lab for testing. In addition to these tests, testimony from a drug recognition expert will be crucial to your case.
Driving under the influence of drugs is a wobbler. The offense can be treated as a misdemeanor or a felony. First and second DUID offenses are treated as misdemeanors. However, having three prior convictions for the offense or causing an accident while driving under drug influence will attract a felony conviction. A conviction for a first offense DUID may not result in jail time. However, you may be subjected to informal probation, $1800 in fines, and a six-month driver's license suspension. If the drug involved in your DUID is illegal, you may face additional charges under California Health and Safety Code 11550, which is eligible for drug diversion.
If you hold a commercial driver's license in California, driving with a BAC of 0.04% or higher will result in an arrest and charges under California VC 23152(d). The prosecutor proves your guilt under this statute by establishing the following elements of the crime:
- You drive a commercial vehicle.
- You operated the vehicle with a BAC that exceeded the legal limit for commercial drivers. Commercial drivers are held to a higher standard than other drivers. Their BAC legal limit is lower than that of other adult drivers.
Commercial DUI is charged as a misdemeanor if there are no injuries to third parties. A conviction for the offense attracts up to six months in county jail, three to five years of informal probation, and fines not exceeding $2,000. Additionally, your commercial driver's license could be suspended for one year. If you are cited for commercial DUI and refuse to take a breath or blood test, you could suffer an increased jail sentence and a mandatory driver's license suspension.
Find a Skilled DUI Defense Attorney Near Me
Driving under the influence is a serious offense under California law. Drunk drivers lack the stamina and concentration required to operate a motor vehicle safely. Therefore, driving under the influence of alcohol increases the risk of severe accidents and puts the lives of the driver and other road users at risk. California Vehicle Code 23152(a) makes it illegal to operate a vehicle with a BAC which exceeds the legal limit or while your conduct is impaired by alcohol. A conviction for DUI attracts severe and lifelong consequences.
Fortunately, not all DUI arrests will result in a criminal conviction. With the guidance of an experienced DUI defense attorney, you can build a solid defense to fight the charges and avoid a conviction. Additionally, your attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce your DUI to a lesser charge, like wet or dry reckless. At Foos Gavin Law Firm, we will employ our extensive knowledge and experience in defending DUI charges to ensure the best possible outcome for your case. We serve clients seeking legal guidance and representation in Sacramento, CA. Call us today at 916-779-3500 to discuss the details of your case.