Drinking and driving charges are harshly punished in California due to the stringent laws. The court will impose hefty fines, jail time, and restrictive probation terms if you are a first-time offender. And because DUI and wet reckless are priorable offenses, subsequent convictions for the same within ten years will result in harsh consequences. Typically, the first, second, and third drunk driving offenses are filed as misdemeanors, while a fourth offense is a felony.
One of the most severe drinking and driving offenses you can face is the 4th offense DUI because of its harsh felony penalties. You must enlist a criminal defense attorney for legal representation to avoid these consequences. The Los Angeles Criminal Attorney is well-versed in DUI laws and can help you take the necessary measures to shield your rights.
General View of California DUI Statutes
Driving under the influence (DUI) is among the strictly punished offenses in Los Angeles. Drunk driving is not just a traffic offense but a criminal violation whose punishment includes incarceration and payment of hefty fines and penalty assessment fees. With drunk driving, you go through the administrative procedure conducted by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the criminal procedure where charges are lodged against you in court. Therefore, you could face severe administrative consequences even if the criminal court does not find you guilty of the offense.
Luckily, an arrest or charge for DUI is not entirely hopeless. With the help of a profound criminal attorney, you can develop effective defense strategies that will prevent a conviction and its consequences.
DUI laws are outlined under Vehicle Code (VC) 23152. The offense is persecuted in two distinct crimes as follows:
VC 23152(a) prohibiting drunk or drugged driving, regardless of the BAC
VC 23152(b) criminalizing operating a car with a BAC of upwards of .08%
With section 23152(a), no testing is required to establish the weight of alcohol in your bloodstream. You will be guilty if the prosecutor demonstrates that you were drunk or drugged when operating the auto. Further, the prosecutor must illustrate that the alcohol or drugs impaired your judgment to the extent you could not drive the car with the same caution a sober driver could exercise.
On the other hand, section 23152(b) requires that you undergo chemical testing to establish the blood alcohol content in your body. Under this section, you will not be guilty if no chemical testing is done. Again, you will be innocent under the statute if a test result is conducted and the results show that your BAC was below the designated limit, although you could be charged with VC 23152(a) violation.
The penalties for a conviction for any of these offenses are life-changing and depend on whether you have a prior conviction within a look-back duration of ten years. You could face misdemeanor or felony penalties based on your case circumstances. The first three DUI offenses are misdemeanors, but the fourth one is a felony, which attracts stricter penalties.
It will be useful if you work closely with a criminal attorney with knowledge of DUI laws, whether it is your first or fourth offense. An attorney will prevent a conviction eliminating the severe penalties in the event of a subsequent charge.
Understanding California 4th Time Offense DUI
DUI being a priorable offense means you risk harsher consequences every time you are convicted for drinking and driving. So, when you have three DUI sentences and are convicted of a fourth one, you will face felony penalties. A previous sentence could be for offenses like:
VC 23152(a) violation
VC 23152(b) violation
Wet reckless under VC 23103.5
A drunk driving conviction that happened out-of-state
An expunged DUI sentence for any of the above offenses
Elements the Prosecutor must Establish
Under California VC 23152, the prosecutor must illustrate the following elements beyond reasonable certainty:
You were driving or operating an automobile
Your BAC at the time was .08% or higher
You have three previous sentences for violation of vehicle code 23152
If an officer saw you behind the wheel at the time of arrest, the element of operating the car is met. Nonetheless, this is not always the case with DUI offenses.
What if the engine was running or you were sleeping inside the car?
Under these circumstances, the element of driving a car becomes an issue of contention.
Circumstances for DUI arrests change every day, meaning it is not enough for the prosecutor to prove you were in a car while drunk. They must prove that you were operating or physically controlling the auto. The prosecutor will rely on circumstantial evidence like arguing the engine was running, you were sitting in the driver's seat, or the car key was in the ignition. Although this evidence will not directly demonstrate guilt, it will help the court to conclude that there was car movement which amounts to driving.
Similarly, the prosecutor must prove you were impaired or with a BAC of at least .08% at the time of operating the car. Proving physical impairment is difficult because there are no test results to back the prosecutor’s claims. It is your word against theirs. To prove physical impairment, the prosecutor alludes to your physical appearance, like a flushed face, red eyes, and slurred speech. However, with the help of a defense attorney, you can defeat this argument by asserting that the symptoms of impairment mentioned by the prosecutor were caused by something other than alcohol or drugs.
Illustrating you had a BAC upwards of .08% is often straightforward because the prosecutor relies on the test results. Nonetheless, if these tests were not conducted as per the guidelines provided under the law, you could challenge their accuracy, thus having the charges dropped or reduced.
Lastly, the prosecutor must establish that your record has three previous DUI sentences in ten years. This is easy to prove because they will rely on DMV records or your past convictions. Besides, they can acquire certificates of appearance or completion of mandatory DUI school or education programs. If these certificates or attendance records are available, it is enough proof that you have been previously convicted of drunk or drugged driving.
When you have an out-of-state DUI conviction, it will be a prior if the state where the arrest happened applies the same standards in California courts. If the standards differ, the offense will not count as a prior. Also, you must understand that even if you expunge a DUI sentence, it will still count as a prior.
Fourth-Time DUI Penalties
The penalties stemming from a successful fourth DUI sentence are more severe than those of a second and third DUI. The reason being a fourth-time drunk driving offense is a felony. Nonetheless, these penalties are not fixed and depend on your case’s circumstances. The judge’s decision hinges on whether there were aggravating or mitigating facts in the case.
The penalties for a 4th time DUI are as follows:
Sixteen, twenty-four, or thirty-six months of prison incarceration
Monetary court fines of between $390 to $1,000
A probationary period of three to five years
Mandatory alcohol education program lasting no more than 18 months
Being designated as a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO)
These penalties could be enhanced if the prosecutor can prove aggravating circumstances in your case. Aggravating factors include:
Extremely high BAC
Operating a car at an excessive speed
Having a minor under 14 as an occupant of your vehicle at the time of the offense
Causing a fatal crash or severe physical injuries to another person
When drunk driving results in a car accident that causes someone else's death, your actions will amount to Watson's murder or DUI manslaughter. A conviction will result in an additional and subsequent prison incarceration of 16, 24, 36, or 72 months and monetary court fines of no more than $10,000. Under PEN 187, Watson's murder is filed as second-degree homicide punishable by a prison sentence ranging from fifteen years to life imprisonment and a court fine of at most $15,000.
Another factor increasing your sentence is drinking and driving, causing injury under VC 23153. When your fourth DUI results in severe physical injuries on another party, you will face an additional sentence of two, three, or six years of prison incarceration and a fine of $5,000. If multiple victims are involved, you will face an extra 12 to 36 months of incarceration for every victim that sustained severe injuries in your DUI accident.
Also, if a minor 14 or younger was an occupant in your vehicle at the time of arrest, an arrest will result in a ninety-day sentence enhancement. Furthermore, you could face conviction for child endangerment charges under PEN 273a, which is punishable by at most 72 months in state prison.
Moreover, you will face sentence enhancement if you were driving at an excessive speed of 20mph on a roadway or 30mph on a highway during the DUI incident. Here, you will serve an additional and subsequent ninety days in prison.
It is worth noting that the court can designate you as an HTO for three years. Additional consequences of being an HTO include payment of court fines of no more than $1,000 and thirty-day incarceration.
Fourth-Time DUI Offense Administrative Penalties
On top of your criminal penalties, the DMV could impose administrative penalties. Usually, after you have been apprehended for your fourth DUI, the arresting officer confiscates your physical driver’s license and mails it to the DMV. You will then be issued a temporary license that expires after seven days.
After the arrest, requesting a DMV hearing within ten days is critical because failure to do so will automatically revoke your driving privileges within 30 days. The suspension or revocation lasts for 48 months. Luckily, under Senate Bill 1046, you can continue driving with a restricted license but with the condition of installing an ignition interlock device on your vehicle. The device detects alcohol in your breath and prevents the car from igniting if it detects alcohol in your breath. However, you will cater for the costs of installing this device.
Once the four-year duration lapses, you can apply for a new license, although you must pay the application fees and retake the driving test. On top of these, the DMV can request certificates of attendance or completion of alcohol education and DUI School. If the court sentences you to probation, you must prove that you have completed the probationary period.
Obtaining the license is not the end of your troubles. The DMV will still require you to install an IID in your vehicle, which is costly, considering you must foot the installation and maintenance cost of the device.
If, at the time of the license suspension, you are arrested for driving without a license, you will face criminal charges at the time of the license suspension. At the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we recommend you apply for a restricted license immediately to avoid being on the wrong side of the law.
The Cost of a 4th DUI Offense
There is no precise cost of a 4th DUI sentence, although it attracts fines and penalty evaluation fees of as much as $10,000.
Furthermore, when obtaining your driving privileges, you must undergo a two and half-year DUI school program, complete an alcohol and drug treatment course, and pay an application fee for the new license. Even after you have had your driver’s license back, you must install an IID in your vehicle and cater for all costs associated with the device.
Also, auto insurance companies will increase their premiums because they deem you a high-risk driver. Your income-earning opportunities will be limited because of your criminal record.
Considering all these costs associated with the 4th time DUI sentence, it is worth hiring a criminal attorney. Some people will argue that attorneys are expensive, opting for self-representation. This is false because when you choose to defend yourself, you are unfamiliar with DUI laws and court processes, which increase the risks of a conviction. The costs associated with a DUI sentence are higher than those of hiring an attorney. Therefore, retaining the services of an experienced criminal attorney will be cheap in the long run when the charges against you are dismissed or reduced.
Fighting 4th Time DUI Offense
The best way to avoid the consequences and hefty penalties of a fourth-offense drunk driving conviction is to have an attorney in your corner. A dedicated and knowledgeable attorney will evaluate all the details of your case and sometimes even conduct an independent investigation to find new evidence the police could have missed. With all the facts about your case, it will be easy for them to poke holes in the prosecutor’s arguments, creating doubt in the jury's minds and giving them a new perspective on the case. The defense strategies your attorney could use to defeat the prosecutor’s assertions are:
Lack of Probable Cause for the DUI Apprehension
When instructing you to stop, an officer must have probable cause. It means the officer must have precise reasons to believe you are engaging in a traffic violation or drinking and driving. The prosecutor proves this element if:
Your headlights were off while driving
You were swerving
You were following another car closely or tailgating
Driving at a very low speed
Making illegal turns
Switching lanes repeatedly
When an officer observes these behaviors, they can instruct you to stop. And it is in their investigations that they can discover you were driving while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol and make an arrest.
There are several instances where an officer can flag you down without any valid reasons you were committing a crime. Some officers will stop you because they saw you leave a bar or club or are convinced you are drunk. Under these circumstances, you can challenge the officer’s reasons for stopping you in the first place. You can even rely on the dashboard camera to prove to the court the officer had no probable cause for the stop or reasonable suspicion for arrest. That way, the court will consider the traffic stop and subsequent arrest illegal, thus dismissing the case.
You Were Not Driving
The prosecutor needs proof of actual driving to gain a conviction. They must illustrate to the court that you were under physical control over or operating the car while drunk. Most prosecutors rely on circumstantial evidence to prove this element. Therefore, if the prosecutor did not see you drive or observe your driving pattern, you can argue that you never drove the car, thus reducing or dropping the charges.
Inaccurate BAC Test Results
For BAC test results to be admissible in court as evidence, they must be accurate. Unfortunately, there is no definite way of telling whether the results are accurate or not. The law only protects the integrity of the test results by providing guidelines that must be adhered to regarding the storage and maintenance of the test equipment and how tests should be administered.
For example, the testing kits must be well-calibrated and maintained regularly. Also, when conducting field sobriety tests, the officer must observe your body behavior for around fifteen minutes and ensure you are relaxed enough to obtain accurate results.
If you believe the equipment was not adequately maintained or calibrated, you can challenge the prosecutor to provide maintenance records. The test results will not be admissible in court if no records are available. Again, if the officer did not observe you for fifteen minutes before the FSTs, you can challenge their accuracy and have the case thrown out.
The Apprehending Officer Did Not Follow the Laid Down Procedures
Failure to adhere to procedures by police officers is a common defense for DUI charges. These procedures are in place to ensure officers do not engage in misconduct. For example, the officer must have probable cause for flagging you down, a DUI investigation, and arrest. Additionally, before conducting investigations, the officer must recite Miranda rights.
The constitution allows you to remain silent during an interrogation until your attorney is present. Also, an officer must recite the Miranda warning before putting you behind bars. Although the law requires you to cooperate, you should not answer questions from the officer without your attorney’s guidance to avoid self-incriminating statements that could be used against you in court. Instead of answering questions, call your attorney right away.
When your legal team discovers the officers conducted an illegal interrogation or engaged in misconduct during investigations, they can file a motion to suppress evidence on your behalf, and all the evidence obtained illegally will be excluded from the case. Eventually, the prosecutor will be left with a weak case that they cannot risk taking to trial. That way, they will be more willing to offer a plea deal for a lesser charge or drop the case.
Challenging the Previous Sentences
Sometimes the evidence against you by the prosecutor can be challenging to contest, making a conviction imminent. Even under these circumstances, an experienced attorney will come in handy.
DUIs are priorable offenses, meaning a fourth-time DUI sentence will result in harsher penalties than a first or third DUI conviction. Therefore, the fewer prior offenses you have, the lesser the penalties. If your attorney can do very little to prevent a conviction, they can challenge the legality of a prior conviction and have it removed from your criminal record. For instance, when you are charged with a fourth DUI, the attorney can challenge a previous conviction, leaving you with only two priors. That way, you will be sentenced for a third DUI, a misdemeanor with lesser penalties.
Find a Profound DUI Attorney Near Me
A lot is at stake when you face charges for the 4th time DUI offense. The penalties upon conviction are life-changing; this is why you cannot afford to shrug off the case hoping it will go away. You must partner with a tenacious legal team to breathe easy, knowing your rights and freedom are protected. At the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we possess the skills to help you obtain a desirable outcome. To schedule a meeting, call us today at 424-333-0943.