Having one or two bottles of beer while catching up with friends or watching a match may appear to be a low-risk pastime. However, if you're apprehended while driving back home intoxicated, the pleasure would turn into something that you'll live to lament for the rest of your life. An arrest could result in a charge of driving under the influence. A conviction for this crime would have long-term effects. If you need assistance in fighting DUI charges and punishments, the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney can be of great assistance. To help you understand DUI, this article addresses California DUI law as well as the judicial process below.
Legal Definition of DUI Under California Law
DUI is defined under California VC 23152 (a) as driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs or operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.08% or more as per California VC 23152 (b). CDL holders could also be convicted of driving while drunk if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is greater than 0.04%. Underage drivers caught driving while drunk would face charges if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.01% or greater. The punishments for a DUI charge vary depending on whether you have prior DUI offenses and whether someone was injured as a result of your drunk driving.
DUI Court Process
Knowing the entire DUI process, including the traffic stop, investigations, arrest, and court processes are crucial to avoid DUI charges. The court process usually begins when you're pulled over at a traffic stop.
Sobriety Checkpoint and Traffic Stop
You might think that the court procedure commences when you're arrested and arraigned in court. However, the process begins when an individual is pulled over by a law enforcement officer or is at a field sobriety checkpoint. An individual would only be stopped in traffic if they violate traffic rules like weaving on the road, speeding, failing to follow traffic signs or lights, or driving a vehicle with faults. Aside from that, the only other spot you could be pulled over is at DUI checkpoints.
Before an officer pulls you over, he/she must have reasonable grounds for the stop. When you are pulled over, the law enforcement officer begins by monitoring your behavior for any signs of impairment or alcohol intoxication. They'll be on the lookout for symptoms such as:
- Any smell of alcohol
- Alcoholic beverage containers in the car
- Glazed eyes
- Slurred speech
- The driver’s admission to being inebriated
Checkpoints have also been set up as an alternative to traffic stops to apprehend those who are driving while impaired. DUI checkpoint laws have encountered several legal disputes because they include strict standard procedures for how they should be administered.
At times, law enforcement officers are unable to follow these processes, which boosts the defense case while weakening the prosecution. A competent defense lawyer will need to demonstrate that the accused was detained at a sobriety checkpoint that did not meet requirements, leading to the charges being dropped or reduced. A legitimate DUI checkpoint should adhere to certain standards, a few of which are listed below:
- The law enforcement supervisor must determine when and where the checkpoint will be posted
- The supervisor should also establish rules and guidelines that instruct field officers on how to select and stop vehicles
- The checkpoint must include several safeguards. The Supreme Court mandates that a valid field sobriety checkpoint should have proper lighting, warning signs, and a visible police car. With such safeguards in place, oncoming motorists could recognize the inspection spots from a distance and slow down
- The inspection points should be set up in reasonable locations
- The checkpoints should be active when there is little traffic, particularly at night and on the roadside, to minimize traffic jams that would inconvenience other road users
- The checkpoint's lighting and warning signs must be visible to oncoming vehicles so that the road users are aware of the inspection point
- To avoid ambushing motorists, public awareness of the checkpoint should be raised in advance
If all of these conditions are met, all of the evidence gathered at such checkpoints would be admissible in the courts.
When a law enforcement officer pulls you over and notices signs of impairment, an investigation is launched and you are asked to exit the vehicle. The following are some of the tests that would be conducted.
Field Sobriety Tests
These include a set of mental and physical tests administered at the checkpoint by a law enforcement officer to demonstrate impairment on reasonable grounds. Therefore, the results of the test decide whether or not you will be arrested. Motorists could opt not to take the test, apart from motorists on parole or individuals under 21 years old. Even though the test is voluntary, no police officer will ask you to reject it unless you say so.
These tests are not mandatory because there are several other reasons why a person could fail the exercises that are unrelated to intoxication. During a field sobriety test, you could be asked to either stand straight with your eyes shut and tilt your head backward for a minute, stand on one leg, involuntarily move your eyes in all directions quickly, also known as horizontal gaze Nystagmus, or walk and turn. By the end of these tests, law enforcement officers will have identified any intoxication-related signs.
Preliminary Alcohol Testing
Once you exit the vehicle, you could be asked to undertake a preliminary alcohol test. The test findings are not official and are intended to provide officers with probable cause to make an arrest. The screening is administered using a portable hand-held instrument known as a breathalyzer.
You'll be required to blow into the gadget, and the law enforcement officer will be able to identify if you've exceeded the legal limit based on the readings. If the reading exceeds the legal threshold, there would be probable cause and solid evidence to make the arrest. Breathalyzers are only useful for roadside use due to their inaccuracy.
If you're pulled over and a law enforcement officer notices signs of intoxication and requests to run a field sobriety test on you, you should consult a criminal defense lawyer right away. The idea behind the decision to hire an attorney is that the police officers would tell you that the results are accurate, while all they need is enough incriminating proof. Simply showing signs of impairment is enough to have you arrested. Therefore, do not give the prosecution more proof by taking the tests.
If the readings of the hand-held Breathalyzer test are higher than the legal limit, you would be charged with violating California VC 23152a. Failure to pass the sobriety tests also provides law enforcement officers with reasonable grounds to make an arrest. You'll be handcuffed and escorted to the nearest hospital, police station, or perhaps a detention center for chemical testing. You'll have the option to choose either a urine, blood, or breath test. If you do not choose one of these options, you will face additional consequences in addition to the standard DUI penalties, as well as a one-year license suspension.
If you give consent to the chemical testing, law enforcement officers are trained on how to administer the tests and would thus give you directions on what you should do. When taking a breathalyzer test, you would be asked to blow twice, and the results will be displayed. The arresting officer would then note down the readings of the tests on the arrest document.
A defendant who opts for the blood chemical test would provide a blood sample, but only under strict conditions. After that, the sample would be tested in a lab. Usually, it takes a few weeks before the blood test results are ready. Following the submission of the chemical test, the nature of the arrest would determine whether or not you would be discharged.
For a misdemeanor DUI arrest, the offender will be released shortly after the detention and booking process is finalized. However, if you were arrested for a felony DUI, you would need to post bail to be discharged. If not, you will be held in custody until the court hearing and resolution of the case. If you post bail and get discharged, you will be issued a citation or subpoena requiring you to show up for court proceedings on a specific date.
The officer in question will then confiscate your driver's license, send a copy to the California DMV, and grant you a temporary driving permit. Those arrested for DUI while out of state are allowed to retain their driver's license. It's worth noting that if your driver's license was suspended due to driving under the influence at the start of 2019, you could immediately apply for an interlock ignition device (IID) to secure a restricted driver's license. The IID device is fitted in your automobile so that it won't start if it detects the smell of alcohol. You could be given a temporary permit if you have such a gadget installed in your vehicle.
After being freed from police custody and awaiting a court hearing, you should hire a defense attorney as soon as possible. DUI cases may appear hopeless if you don't have legal counsel on your side. However, if you partner with a DUI lawyer, particularly a private one, you can be confident that he or she will devote his or her resources and time to investigating the case. Even though the court may appoint a public lawyer for you, avoid such individuals. The reason is that they're constrained in terms of time and resources, meaning their evaluations are not extensive.
Another issue with public defense lawyers is that after the court assigns one to your case and he/she does not represent you well as you please, you cannot be allocated another defender unless you either represent yourself or pay a private DUI lawyer. Furthermore, public defense lawyers are not authorized to represent you in an administrative DMV hearing, which is crucial in determining whether or not you preserve your driving rights. Therefore, consider hiring a professional DUI lawyer because he or she will be with you during the DMV hearing until the end of your case.
After a defendant is arrested, the officer in question issues him or her a temporary driving license and a suspension order. The driver's license suspension takes effect after thirty days. To have the suspension lifted, you must contact the DMV within 10 days after being arrested for a DMV administrative hearing. Having a lawyer at this stage is extremely beneficial because he/she can delay the hearing, allowing you more time to prepare as well as to have a say in deciding which DMV hearing officer will be given your case. The driving license suspension is normally lifted if the lawyer requests a hearing within the mandated 10 days.
Your DUI lawyer handles the hearings on your behalf, and you could choose to attend the hearing over the phone or in person. Live conferences are always the best option since it allows your lawyer to cross-examine the officer while the prosecution is not around. In this manner, your lawyer can gather more information to present in court. However, the main objective of the DMV hearing is to persuade the DMV officer not to revoke or suspend the defendant's driver's license.
DMV hearings are only available for drunk driving cases with a BAC of 0.08% or higher. If you're accused of driving while impaired by drugs or suffering from drug addiction, your driver's license could only be suspended once you're convicted in a criminal court. After the trial comes to an end, the DMV officer decides whether or not to suspend your license based on the evidence presented.
If you lose at the DMV administrative hearing, do not try to drive around on a suspended license since you risk facing jail time as well as additional license suspension if you get caught. The smart move is to apply for an IID-restricted driver's license before the 30-day window after the arrest expires. You could apply for this driver's license right away as per the provisions of SB 1046 (2018). This license allows you to drive yourself to and from work or school, as well as to any other program required by the court, such as a DUI school.
DUI Court Arraignment
The next stage after a DMV hearing is a court hearing. In your first court appearance, you would be convicted of a misdemeanor DUI under California VC 23152a and 23152b, respectively. At this point, your main goal should be to avoid a conviction. In the case of misdemeanor charges, your legal counsel could attend the court hearings on your behalf. However, if your participation is required, you will be compelled to appear in person. Your lawyer can appear at the court proceedings on your behalf, saving you time and public embarrassment.
If no plea agreement is reached, the case would proceed to trial. During the court arraignment stage, your counsel would enter a not guilty plea and obtain a charge report, popularly known as a complaint. Following that, the prosecution would submit the charging sheet and the discovery to the court. The courts then schedule a pre-trial hearing. The trial's date is normally set one month after the first DUI court arraignment to allow the defense time to build a case and cross-examine the witnesses. The court case could last for months due to the evidence gathered and legal arguments to reduce or dismiss the charges submitted by the defense team.
The prosecution would present additional evidence that they may have acquired, as well as some of the information requested by the defense before the pre-trial. Several arguments to suppress the case would then be filed because the accused was either arrested at a DUI checkpoint that did not comply with court standards or the law enforcement officers made an unlawful traffic stop.
Furthermore, the defense could submit a motion if the chemical testing results were inaccurate. During these arguments, the prosecution may opt to reduce charges depending on the evidence presented by the defendant to avoid the case being given up. However, if the arguments are granted, the case would be dismissed or the charges could be reduced. If an agreement is reached and you plead guilty to a DUI charge or a lesser one, you have the option of pleading in front of a judge in court. If no agreement is made during the pre-trial, your case will be scheduled to appear before the jury.
Most DUI cases rarely reach the jury trial stage. The majority of the cases are dropped along the way, either because judges believe the cases are weak or because the evidence or information gathered by the officer in question is not sufficient to convict the defendant. The case is heard in front of 12 jurors. Your lawyer would present the evidence and cross-examine witness accounts in the presence of the jurors so that they could get a chance to listen to and understand all the facts and details that surround the case. After the attorneys present their closing arguments, the panel of jurors retreats to the deliberation room. In this stage, they weigh all of the evidence to determine whether or not the accused is guilty.
After a decision is reached and the court finds the defendant guilty of a DUI crime, he or she would face the following penalties.
First Misdemeanor DUI Offense
The penalties for a first-time misdemeanor DUI conviction are as follows:
- Serving a jail time of 188 days
- Hefty cash fines range from $360 to $1,000
- A mandatory 180-day IID term
- Participation in a 3- to 9-month DUI school program
Second DUI Misdemeanor Offense
If you are convicted of this offense, you will face the following consequences:
- Serving time ranges from 4 to 365 days behind bars
- A hefty cash fine, not exceeding $1,000
- A one-year ignition interlock device installation
- Enrollment for an eighteen or thirty-month DUI class program
Third DUI Misdemeanor Offense
Defendants risk facing the following penalties:
- Serving four to twelve months behind bars
- Hefty cash fines of no more than $1,000
- IID duration of 24 months
- Enrollment in a DUI school program that lasts for two and a half years
Misdemeanor DUI Causing Injury
A DUI crime involving injuries is normally considered a wobbler offense. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor DUI causing injury, you could receive:
- A jail term of no more than 365 days
- Hefty cash fines of no more than $5,000
- Settle restitution for individuals who sustained injuries
- A six-month IID installation, and
- Enrolling for a 3, 8, or 30-month period in a DUI school program
First Felony DUI Causing Injury Offense
Convictions for felony DUI carry harsh penalties. If you're found guilty of this type of offense, you would face the following penalties:
- Serving no more than sixteen years in jail, as well as a prison term not exceeding six years, depending on the number of individuals injured and the severity of the injuries
- Getting a strike on your criminal record
- Mandatory IID installation for a duration of 24 to 36 months
- Hold a habitual traffic offender (HTO) status for no more than 36 months
- Hefty cash fines ranging from $1,015 to $5,000, plus settling restitution to the victim
- Enrolling in an 18- or 30-month DUI school program
The consequences for a felony DUI without injury are as follows:
- Serving sixteen, twenty-four, or thirty-six months behind bars
- A hefty cash fine ranging from $390 to $5,000, as well as paying restitution
- 60-month suspension of the driver's license
- Enrolling in an 18- or 30-month DUI program
If the allegations against you are dropped or the court finds you innocent of the charges, your lawyer would file several arguments to keep your criminal record clean. Additionally, he or she would inform your employer, insurer, and the California DMV of the court's decision and present them with relevant documentation.
Find a Los Angeles DUI Lawyer Near Me
DUI charges can have long-term effects on your career, such as a criminal record, making it difficult to secure a good job or gain admission to a university or college. A negative driving record could also have significant effects on your future. Therefore, if you or someone you know needs help with a DUI charge, we encourage you to get in touch with us at the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney. Contact us today at 424-333-0943.