Driving under the influence is one of the most frequent criminal charges in California. Several laws prohibit driving while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both. Drivers arrested and convicted of this crime can face severe criminal penalties and possibly lose their driving privilege through a suspension or a revocation. It's essential to understand what impaired driving entails and what type of conduct is a violation of California's DUI laws.
At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we are committed to providing the best legal services to our clients facing DUI charges. Schedule an appointment with us today and learn how we can help you.
Overview of California DUI Laws
California uses two primary DUI laws: Vehicle Code 23152(a) and Vehicle Code 23152(b), to prohibit driving under the influence of alcohol. These two laws make it illegal for a driver with a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.08% or greater. Most people arrested for DUI in California are prosecuted under these two sections.
Apart from the two laws provided above, Vehicle Code 23152(d) applies stricter BAC limits for commercial drivers. This statute makes it a crime to drive a commercial vehicle with a BAC of 0.04% or higher. This limit only applies when a driver is operating a commercial vehicle.
California has also established the Zero Tolerance law for underage drivers under Vehicle Code 23136. This law makes it illegal for young drivers below 21 years to drive with a BAC of 0.01% or higher. Therefore, an underage driver cannot drink any alcohol and drive.
Further, California Vehicle Code 23152(f) prohibits drivers from driving under the influence of drugs, whether illegal or prescribed. On the other hand, Vehicle Code 23152(g) prohibits anyone from driving under the combined influence of drugs and alcohol.
Finally, California Vehicle Code 23153 defines DUI causing injury as driving under the influence and causing bodily injuries to another person as a result. Under this section, driving under the influence can fall under Vehicle Code (a), (b), or (f).
The Arrest Process in a DUI Case
DUI arrest in California starts with the investigation. At this stage, a California DUI investigation will pull you over for any of the following three aspects:
- Due to a traffic violation
- Since there's something related to your car like a burnt-out headlight
- Due to an accident that prompted law enforcement officers to the scene
Regardless of how the investigation process begins, the DUI officer will write down a report describing you in any of the following ways:
- You had an alcoholic beverage odor emitting from your breath
- You displayed objective signs of intoxication like slurred speech, a flushed face, or red bloodshot eyes
Then, the police will ask you to perform several field sobriety tests or conduct a preliminary Alcohol testing Screening test. Let's have a closer look at these two tests.
Field Sobriety Test
Field Sobriety tests involve a series of physical and mental tests administered during a DUI investigation. Poor results in these tests could be a sign of impairment from alcohol or drugs. They help the DUI officer determine whether to arrest you for DUI or not.
Please note, taking a DUI test is entirely optional. Therefore, a driver can decline the test without any consequences whatsoever. This is crucial since sober drivers can still fail in their field sobriety test and have nothing to do with their BAC. There are three distinct types of Field Sobriety Tests administered to drivers in a DUI stop. These tests are as follows:
The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test
The Horizontal gaze nystagmus test is a field sobriety test that involves the involuntary jerking of drivers' eyes when something moves towards the side of their eyes. When a DUI investigation officer is administering this test, they will instruct the driver to follow a stimulus with his or her eyes. The officer will then note the angle at which the eye starts to jerk involuntarily.
An involuntary jerking before 45-degrees is associated with a high BAC. The NHTSA claims that an HGN test can be 88% reliable in determining whether a driver is DUI.
The Walk and Turn Test
The walk and turn test is a divided attention form of the field sobriety test that requires the suspect to concentrate on both mental and physical tasks simultaneously. In this test, the driver must follow and remember specific instructions while performing the following physical movements:
- Taking nine heel-to-toe steps on an imaginary or real line
- Pivot around
- And take nine heel-to-toe steps back
While the driver is making these physical movements, the officer will be observing the following eight signs of impairment:
- Failing to keep balance during the instructions
- Stopping while walking
- Stepping off the imaginary or real line
- Using his or her arms to maintain balance
- Starting sooner than when the officer gave the instructions
- Failing to turn as instructed
- Taking the wrong number of steps
- Failing to touch heel-to-toe
NHTSA claims a 79% correlation between a poor performance for this test and a BAC of 0.08% or higher.
The On-Leg Stand Test
The one-leg DUI test, also referred to as divided attention, is another standardized field sobriety test. In this test, you'll have to take note of the following instructions:
- Raise your foot to about six inches off the ground
- Remain still in that second
- Count from 1001 -1030
- Look down at your foot
While taking this test, the DUI officer will be checking for the following four clues of impairment:
- Using your arms to maintain balance
- Putting down your foot
NHTSA claims an 83% BAC accuracy to anyone displaying two or more of these clues.
The preliminary Alcohol Screening Test
A preliminary alcohol test or PAS is a roadside breathalyzer test administered to a motorist suspected to be DUI. Officers use a handheld device to measure the driver's breath alcohol concentration.
The officer will use the PAS test results to decide whether to arrest a person for DUI. These results are admissible to court.
A PAS test is entirely optional unless you're arrested for violating California's Zero Tolerance law or you are on DUI probation. Those who don't fall under these two categories can refuse to take the test without any consequences. Agreeing to take this test means that the results can be used against you in court.
California DUI chemical tests are mandatory when a suspect is under arrest. Refusal to take a DUI test could result in loss of your driver's license and enhancement of your DUI penalties.
On the other hand, a post-arrest test is administered at the police department. You can only decline to take a post-arrest breath test only if you have asked for a blood test and the officer has confirmed its availability.
A PAS test uses a mathematical conversion of the breath alcohol to a rough BAC estimate to determine whether a driver is driving under the influence or not. That's why PAS tests are generally regarded to be less reliable than DUI blood tests.
Further, there are no strict regulations related to a PAS test compared to a post-arrest DUI breath test. In a post-arrest test, the test must be administered by a trained operator, and the operator must adequately maintain the testing device.
Blood Tests in a DUI Arrest
If your decision to take a blood test is considered, a qualified DUI technician will draw blood from you and send it to a laboratory for analysis. You'll have to wait for at least several days to have your results.
After the DUI tests are completed, the DUI investigation officer will book and release you. You can be released on bail or with a written promise to appear in court, depending on your criminal history. The police will most probably hold you in a cell for a few hours before releasing you.
Later the arresting officer will complete the report detailing your DUI arrest and submit it to the local prosecution agency for a review. The review will determine whether the prosecution should decline the charges or formally charge you with DUI.
What Prosecutors Must Prove in DUI Charges
The prosecution must prove several criminal elements to win a case against a defendant. The Elements of the crime in a DUI charge are as follows:
There Was a Probable Cause for Your Arrest
DUI officers cannot stop you unless there is a definite reason to do so. Most DUI stops result from apparent reasons like speeding, weaving in and out of lanes, and running a red or sign light. A DUI officer can also stop a driver due to subtle reasons like having an expired license tag or a broken tail light.
Regardless of the reason behind your stopping, the officer can pull you over and ask you to take a preliminary alcohol screening test if you show signs of intoxication like alcohol odor and slurred speech.
Driving a Motor Vehicle
In addition to driving, there must be proof that you were driving while intoxicated. The easiest method to prove this is when an officer observes a person is driving and pulls him over to administer a field sobriety test to indicate that a person is intoxicated. However, it can be a little more complicated when a driver has already pulled over on the side or in a parking lot.
In a case where direct observation does not meet the driving element, the officer will use circumstantial evidence to determine whether a person was driving. Some of the critical facts that play a crucial role in proving this element include where the intoxicated person was sitting in a car, whether the engine is warm, and whether the keys are still intact in the car's ignition.
Blood Alcohol Level Indicating Intoxication
Lastly, the driver must be intoxicated to be prosecuted for DUI. The level of intoxication depends on the percentage of the user. Typically, the officer will raise suspicion for a DUI above 0.08%. Still, the officer can also consider a BAC level below this level if the driver is an underage or a commercial driver.
Please note that the law presumes that a person's BAC is 0.08% or more at the time of the blood or breath test, meaning that the person is guilty of DUI regardless of whether he or she is experiencing any physical or mental effects of the alcohol.
Penalties for Common DUI Cases in California
Most DUI cases are prosecuted for a misdemeanor. However, some offenses can be charged as a felony, especially when someone is injured or when you have four more previous DUIs on your record. Most convictions carry jail time, while others allow defendants to continue driving as long as they have installed an ignition interlock device on their vehicles. Below is a breakdown of some of the common penalties for DUI cases in California.
Penalties for 1st Misdemeanor DUI Offense
A first misdemeanor DUI offense in California carries the following penalties:
- A maximum of six months in county jail
- A fine that ranges between $390 to $1,000
- Mandatory installation of an Ignition Interlock Device for six months. The DMV can suspend the license for four months, where the defendant can get a restricted license for five months after thirty days
- Mandatory attendance to a DUI school for three to nine months
Penalties for 2nd Misdemeanor DUI Offense
A second misdemeanor DUI offense carries the following penalties:
- Mandatory custody in a county jail for 96 hours
- A fine that ranges between $390 to $1,000
- Mandatory installation of an IID for one year if the driver chooses to use an IID or a license suspension for two years with the eligibility of getting a restricted license after one year
- Mandatory attendance to a DUI school for thirty days
Penalties for 3rd Misdemeanor DUI
A third misdemeanor DUI carries the following penalties:
- Custody in county jail for 120 days to one year
- A fine that ranges between $390 to $1,000
- Mandatory installation of an IID for two years or a license suspension for three years
- Mandatory attendance for thirty months
Penalties for Misdemeanor DUI with Injuries
A misdemeanor DUI with injuries carries the following penalties:
- Custody in county jail for five days to one year
- A fine that ranges between $390 to $5,000 plus restitution to the injured parties
- A mandatory installation of an IID for six months or a license suspension for one year
- Mandatory attendance to a DUI school for 2, 18, or 30 months
Penalties for a Felony 1st DUI with Injury
The penalties for a felony 1st DUI with injuries are as follows:
- Custody in county jail for 16 months to 16 years in the California state prison
- A fine that ranges between $1015 to $5,000 plus the cost of restitution to the injured parties
- Mandatory installation of an IID for one year
- Attendance to a DUI school for 18 or 30 months
Penalties for Felony DUI
A felony DUI carries the following sentences:
- 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison
- A fine that ranges between $390 to $1,000
- A maximum of 5 years of mandatory IID installation
- Mandatory attendance to a DUI school for 18 or 30 months
Addition Conditions of Probation in DUI Penalties
Apart from the criminal penalties described above, California courts impose a DUI sentence that includes probation. The following conditions are commonly included:
- Declining from driving with a measurable amount of alcohol in your blood
- Mandatory compliance to a chemical test
- Refraining from committing any additional crimes
The court might also impose the following conditions of probation based on the circumstances of your arrest:
- Mandatory attendance in Alcoholic Anonymous(AA) or Narcotic Anonymous(NA) meetings
- Mandatory participation in a Mothers Against Drunk Driving(MADD) Victim program
- Restitution of an injured victim
Alternative Sentencing Options for California DUI
The court can impose alternative punishments as part of your DUI conviction. These alternative sentences are imposed in connection to the DUI penalties described above. These alternative sentences include:
- Participation in Cal-Trans roadside work
- Participation in community service
- Residence in a sober-living environment
- House arrest or electronic monitoring
- Custody in a city or private jail
Lawyers who aren't specialized in DUI defense may not know about these alternative sentences. That's why it's recommendable to hire a specialized DUI defense attorney to convince the judge or prosecutor to agree to these sentences.
Common Legal Defenses for DUI Cases in California
A DUI arrest doesn't guarantee an automatic conviction. From the time of your stopping until your trial, a lot of things can happen. These things can help you fight your DUI charges if you decide to hire a DUI defense attorney immediately. Here are a few defense strategies that you can use.
Prove that the Stop was Improper
Police officers cannot stop a person without reasonable cause. In a DUI traffic stop, the police must identify rational reasons like swerving, disobeying speed limits, and breaking traffic laws. If there's no reasonable factor behind your stopping, any information or evidence collected therein is inadmissible in court.
Improper Administration of the Field Sobriety Test
A DUI officer must observe several protocols when administering field sobriety tests. If an officer doesn't adhere to any of this protocol, the court may suppress the evidence gathered to support them. Field sobriety test results can be inadmissible in court if the officer becomes overly intimidating, engages in the test disrespectfully and has inappropriate conduct towards you.
Further, the FTS observations are regarded as components of the state's acceptable evidence but don't work as significant proof of intoxication. For instance, the significance of a heel-to-toe test can be inadmissible in court if you took the test with unreasonable footwear or if the test was conducted in severe weather.
Improper Testing and Storage of the Blood Sample
Recall that you can request a blood test as part of your chemical test? Well, the police should arrange for a licensed or trained phlebotomist to analyze your blood-alcohol sample. If the technician puts you in waiting for an unreasonable time, you could use this as a defense against the results.
The police should also ensure that the blood samples are well maintained to avoid contamination, mislabeling, or fermentation. If questions arise from the sample's integrity, they can be thrown out, leaving the prosecution with little to rely on while advancing your case.
Some medical conditions can sometimes make you appear drunk and skew the results of a roadside breathalyzer test. Neurological problems or fatigue can cause slurred speech, while allergies, crying, or sinus problems can cause watery eyes, which are easily mistaken as signs of impairment.
Additionally, an alcoholic odor can be present in your mouth due to a side effect called ketosis. Ketosis involves the fermentation of glucose into the bloodstream, causing an alcoholic smell. Ketosis can also cause a sober driver to show the presence of alcohol in a breathalyzer test.
Violation of Miranda Rights During Interrogation
The US constitution expects police officers to inform suspects that they are officially under arrest to distinguish the scenario from a mere conversation, allowing the individual to leave freely. When you're placed under arrest, the police will advise you about your right to remain silent, right to an attorney, and right to a court-appointed attorney if you cannot afford one. The police must also tell you that any information gathered after that is admissible in court.
If the police don't issue any Miranda rights, evidence gathered afterward like biological evidence, field sobriety test observation, and the court will most likely exclude incriminating evidence.
Violation of State Prosecution Rules and Procedures
Several DUI defenses may not arise until the actual trial date. This usually includes the violation of state procedures and evidence like introducing character evidence and using unauthorized means to collect evidence like photographs, recordings, and documents.
For instance, the police might introduce new evidence of a dashboard video camera recording as part of the field sobriety test result. In this case, the prosecutor must prove that the officer was present during the FST test, and you're featuring in the video to rely on the recording. Otherwise, the court will exclude this new evidence.
Find a Anaheim DUI Attorney Near Me
You shouldn't hesitate to seek professional legal counsel after you're charged with DUI. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, our defense team has unmatched skills and huge experience to strategize an effective defense for your case. With your team by your side, you rest assured of the best possible results for your case. For more information, contact us at 714-766-0965 and set up an initial consultation with our team.