California has one of the most stringent drugged or drunk driving laws in the country. The penalties for violating these restrictions vary depending on your previous DUI convictions and whether anyone was injured. The repercussions are severe and life-altering, necessitating the services of a DUI lawyer.

We at the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, take pride in defending individuals facing DUI charges. In this article, we have detailed the California DUI Laws to help you avoid a breach of these statutes and prepare your next steps if you are arrested.

An Overview of Per Se DUI and Standard DUI Laws

California has two major drunk-driving statutes for adult drivers. These include VC 23152a, which makes driving while inebriated with alcohol illegal, and California VC 23152b, which makes operating a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08% illegal. Most people arrested for California drunk driving are usually tried under these provisions.

DUI penalties vary depending on two key factors:

  • The motorist's criminal background
  • The circumstances surrounding a case

The standard provision against driving under the influence is California VC 23152a. Being 'under the influence' implies that your physical or mental abilities are compromised to the degree that you cannot drive as safely and carefully, as a sober driver. Even if your blood alcohol concentration level was less than 0.08%, you would face charges under this provision.

Blood Alcohol Concentration

DUI per se is addressed under California VC 23152b. According to this statute, anyone who operates a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08% or higher is considered to be inebriated or under the influence. California's legal blood alcohol concentration limit stands at 0.08%. The Latin term 'per se' means 'in itself.' A BAC of 0.08% or higher is deemed per se DUI because it's an infringement of the laws in and on its own.

In this situation, the prosecutor does not need to establish that the defendant's driving skills showed his or her impairment. In other words, the accused could be sentenced even though he or she was not intoxicated while driving. Adult non-commercial motorists are subject to a per se BAC limit of 0.08% or higher. The per se blood alcohol concentration limit for commercial motorists is 0.04%, whereas for minor drivers is 0.05%.

Implied Consent Law

This legislation requires any motorist who is lawfully arrested for driving while under the influence to submit to breath tests to ascertain their BAC level. If a driver violates this rule (refuses to submit to a breath test), they would be subject to several penalties, such as:

  • A mandatory suspension of the driver's rights that takes effect regardless of the outcome of a motorist's DUI charge
  • Enhanced punishments in addition to the standard DUI penalties

The enhanced DUI penalties for refusing to submit to a breath test include the following:

  1. For first-time DUI offenders, an additional 48 hours behind bars and at least 9 months in a DUI school is required. This is different from the regular 3-month DUI class for first-time DUI crimes that don't involve refusals
  2. Second-time DUI offenders face an additional 96 hours behind bars
  3. Third-time DUI offenders face an additional 10 days behind bars
  4. An additional 18 days behind bars for the fourth and subsequent DUI offense

When it comes to chemical testing after a legitimate DUI arrest, the implied consent law is unclear. Initially, this law only related to drunk-driving breath and blood tests. In the Birchfield vs. North Dakota case, the US Supreme Court ruled that perpetrators should not be convicted for refusing to consent to blood testing where the police officer does not have a lawful warrant.

However, the court’s ruling had an impact on jurisdictions that consider it a separate crime for a motorist to refuse DUI blood testing following a legal arrest. In contrast, California only imposes enhanced penalties on DUI offenders who refuse to consent to chemical testing. Therefore, it's up to the courts to decide if this is similarly unconstitutional, and thus whether California's implied consent law can be used for DUI blood tests.

A law enforcement officer can order you to submit to DUI blood testing in three different situations. These include:

  • A legal warrant approving the test's administration
  • A suspicion that a driver is driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Felony DUI suspicions

Legal Warrant for Chemical Testing

If a law enforcement officer has a legitimate warrant for the test, then he or she can order you to take a DUI blood test. The warrant is issued by the judge, granting legal authorization for the chemical DUI testing.

Suspicion of DUID

If a law enforcement officer has grounds to believe that the results will show the presence of drugs in the blood, he or she would ask you to submit to a DUI blood test. An officer would have grounds for reasonable suspicion based on your remarks, objective symptoms and signs of drug impairment, and physical evidence of drug usage.

Felony DUI Suspicions

When a law enforcement officer suspects felony drunk driving but cannot acquire a warrant fast, he or she would employ a forced blood draw for a DUI chemical test. A DUI is considered a felony crime when:

  • It leads to injury
  • The defendant has 3 or more DUI or wet reckless convictions in the last 10 years
  • The defendant has at least one prior felony DUI conviction

It's important to note that an implied consent statute only relates to breath tests following a legitimate DUI arrest. This means that before being arrested, a driver could still refuse to take a roadside (PAS) breath test. There are no penalties for not consenting to PAS tests unless the motorist is serving probation for a previous DUI conviction or is under the age of twenty-one.

If a driver is serving probation for a DUI or is under the age of twenty-one, declining to take a PAS test would not be admissible as evidence of guilt in court. However, it should be noted that if a driver consents to a PAS test, the findings would be used as evidence to support a DUI conviction.

If you're facing charges for refusing DUI chemical testing, there is one popular legal argument you can use. The defense will claim that your detention was illegal. If the law enforcement officers did not have a valid justification to stop you or make an arrest for a DUI offense, the arrest would not legal. If your arrest was illegal, it means you never granted implied consent to breathe testing. If the defense argument is successful, the magistrate has the authority to drop the entire DUI case.

It should be noted that the implied consent state law applies to all California drivers. This includes California residents with a California driver's license and non-residents with an out-of-state license.

Drunk-Driving Laws for Minors

California has two key provisions that govern underage DUI. These include California Vehicle Code 23136, Zero Tolerance law, and California Vehicle Code 23140, under 21 vehicle operation with a BAC level of 0.05% or higher.

Zero Tolerance Law

California Vehicle Code 23136 is the zero-tolerance law for drunk driving. The lawmakers enacted this law in 1994 to address the issue of underage DUI. VC 23136 makes it illegal for individuals under the age of 21 to drive a vehicle with a BAC of 0.01% or more after consuming any alcoholic beverage.

It is important to note that even a small amount of alcohol can quickly raise your blood alcohol concentration from 0% to 0.01%. In addition, for VC 23136, an alcoholic beverage includes alcohol derived from any source, not just alcoholic drinks. In addition to alcoholic beverages, alcohol can also be included in homeopathic remedies, cough syrups, and over-the-counter cold medications like Nyquil.

The BAC level in a normal DUI charge is measured by a post-arrest DUI chemical (blood and breath) test. The blood alcohol concentration level could be determined through a preliminary alcohol screening test under the zero-tolerance law. PAS tests are breath tests administered by the roadside following an arrest. It's administered using a Breathalyzer. The kit measures the driver's breath alcohol content and mathematically translates it to a blood alcohol level that is roughly equivalent.

The roadside testing is optional for motorists aged 21 or above. Motorists under the age of 21 on the other hand, are presumed to have consented to roadside tests if they are suspected of operating a vehicle while under the influence.

This implies that if you're below the age of 21 and are stopped for DUI and refuse to submit to the PAS tests, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will automatically suspend or revoke your driving privileges for one year. If your driver's license is suspended owing to your failure to take the PAS tests, you will not be eligible for a restricted license.

You Could Face Charges Under the Zero Tolerance Law as Well as Other Dui Laws

The law often safeguards the defendant from being convicted of multiple DUI offenses for similar acts. To put it another way, you can only be charged and convicted for Vehicle Code 23152(a) operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or Vehicle Code 23152(b) driving a car with a BAC of 0.08% or more, but not both.

An exception is provided under VC 23136. You could violate the zero-tolerance statute along with other additional DUI laws if your BAC was high or if you were drunk driving. Furthermore, you could be charged under more than a single DUI law in addition to the Vehicle Code 23136 the zero-tolerance provision, even if you are ultimately convicted of one charge.

The violation of Vehicle Code 23136 is not considered a criminal offense. Instead, it's regarded as a civil offense. The only penalty for violating the zero-tolerance law is having your driving privileges revoked or suspended by the DMV. This suspension is referred to as an administrative per se or APS suspension. If your driver's license was suspended when you violated the provisions of VC 23136, you will have to wait for one year before reinstating your driving rights.

If you receive a citation for violating Vehicle Code 23136, the police officer will take your license (presuming you have one) and send it to the Department of Motor Vehicles. You can then receive a temporary driving permit from the police, effective for only 30 days.

If you don't request a DMV hearing within 10 days of receiving a citation to dispute the suspension or revocation, your driving license will inevitably be revoked or suspended once the thirty-day window expires. You can also ask for a hearing when you had your driving privileges suspended or revoked as a result of your refusal to submit to a Preliminary Alcohol Screening or chemical test.

Keep in mind that you may still face charges for breaking the zero-tolerance policy even though you weren't driving while intoxicated. Simply driving the car with a BAC of 0.01% or above becomes a violation of this statute for an underage driver.

Underage DUI with a BAC of 0.05% or Higher (Vehicle Code 23140)

Anyone under the age of 21 who operates a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05% or above violates Vehicle Code 23140. BAC is typically determined by post-arrest chemical tests. This could be a blood or breath test. A breath test is typically administered at the station using a portable device.

Violations of Vehicle Code 23140 are charged as infractions. An infraction, like a parking ticket, is a low-level crime. Thus, there won't be any jail time for breaking the VC 23140 provisions. Rather, first-time defendants face fines of up to $100, a yearlong suspension of their driving privileges, as well as a three- to six-month mandatory alcohol program.

Refusing to take a PAS test or a post-arrest test will result in a one-year suspension of driving privileges. If the driver has one or more prior convictions for refusing to submit to chemical tests for drunk driving or wet reckless crime per Vehicle Code 23103.5, the DMV might also suspend the license for a period of 2 or even more years.

Minor drivers do have the constitutional right to challenge any suspension or revocation of their license, even those resulting from refusals to submit to chemical tests, just as they do under zero-tolerance laws. They need to seek a DMV hearing to do this. Keep in mind that the DMV hearing is not automatic.

The driver must request it within 10 days of being accused of a Vehicle Code 23136 offense or for refusing a chemical test. Unless the driver requests that the Department of motor vehicles conduct the hearing in person, it is often conducted over the phone. An attorney could defend the driver during this session and oversee the whole proceedings on the defendant's behalf.

The DMV will reverse the license revocation or suspension once you are successful in this process.

It's not necessarily the end of the world when you lose, though. You could then:

  • Challenge the DMV hearing official's verdict by submitting a written petition along with a fee of $120 within 15 days of the ruling's date of issuance
  • Request a "critical use" restricted license. This special license is equivalent to a learner's license. It allows you to get to and from school or a job if no other mode of transportation is available. This type of license, nonetheless, is not accessible if the suspension or revocation was brought about by the refusal to submit to a chemical test

You can regain your driving privileges following the expiration of the license suspension term by:

  • Submitting an SR-22 financial responsibility form
  • Paying a reissue charge of $125 to the Department of motor vehicles

keeping three years' worth of evidence of financial responsibility.

Similar to zero-tolerance statutes, Vehicle Code 23140 allows for prosecution even though you are not driving while intoxicated. Simply driving a car with a BAC over 0.05% is a violation of this statute.

Commercial DUI Laws (Vehicle Code 23152(d))

You may be charged with commercial DUI as per Vehicle Code 23152(d), among other charges, if you possess a commercial driving permit and drove a commercial vehicle while inebriated. To be convicted of breaching this provision, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) should have been at 0.04% or above at the moment you drove a commercial vehicle.

Commercial drivers face substantially severe penalties for breaking DUI laws because they are subjected to stricter safety requirements than non-commercial motorists. One of the penalties is the suspension or revocation of their licenses.

A commercial motorist who is charged with a 1st DUI offense faces a one-year license suspension under Vehicle Code 15300. In addition, a commercial license will be permanently suspended for a subsequent DUI conviction per California Vehicle Code 15302.

According to Vehicle Code 13352, Revocation or Suspension for DUI or Speed Contest, a commercial motorist's non-commercial driving permit will be suspended or revoked if they were driving a commercial vehicle while intoxicated.

There are a few legal arguments you could assert to raise to contest the commercial DUI allegations. Among them are:

  • The car was driven by someone else
  • You were not stopped by the authorities for any reason, and you were not taken into custody for drunk driving
  • The police officer didn't entirely and properly inform you of your legal rights
  • The Blood alcohol content testing apparatus was ineffective.
  • The Blood alcohol concentration test findings fell within the allowable error margin
  • The person conducting the BAC tests did not adhere to the recommended testing protocols
  • Your mouth had alcohol from a completely separate source, such as mouthwash
  • Your blood alcohol level was rising during the field sobriety test, indicating that it was lesser when you were operating the vehicle
  • You suffered from a medical problem such as GERD or acid reflux
  • You were following a low-carb, high-protein meal regimen, which could have "cheated" the test

These arguments can extend to other drunk driving offenses as well.

Driving While Under the Influence of Drugs Vehicle Code 23152(f)

The state of California has two statutes that make driving illegal while under the influence of drugs. These include Vehicle Code 23152(f) driving while under the influence of drugs as well as Vehicle Code 23152(g) driving while under the influence of both drugs and alcohol.

For VC 23152(f)/(g), a drug is defined as any substance, other than alcohol, that has the potential to affect an individual's brain, nervous system, or muscles and that would significantly limit their capacity to drive a car as a typically cautious and sober individual would in a similar situation. As a result, a drug comprises:

  • Legal substances like cannabis
  • Illegal substances including methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin
  • Prescription drugs, even though they cause the motorist to become 'high.'
  • Antihistamines and cold medications and other examples of OTC medications.

Contrary to the case with drunk driving, California does not have a set specified threshold for drugs. This is due to disagreement among experts over the level of drug impairment that renders a person incapable of operating a motor vehicle. Therefore, the State law just specifies that it is illegal for someone to drive:

  • When under the influence of drugs
  • When under the combined influence of drugs and alcohol
  • While abusing drugs of any kind, unless they are undergoing treatment for their addiction as part of a recognized program

DUI Regulations for Uber, Lyft, Limo, and Taxi Drivers (Vehicle Code 23152(e))

Vehicle Code 23152(e) went into effect on the 1st of July. Driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.04% or more is illegal for Uber, Limo, Taxi, and Lyft drivers. A breach of this statute is considered a misdemeanor on the first, 2nd, and third conviction.

According to this law, a 4th DUI charge is prosecuted as a felony. If aggravating circumstances are present, a driver could additionally be subjected to an enhanced penalty. The following are some of the aggravating factors:

  • Triggering an accident
  • Excessive speeding
  • Refusal to submit to a DUI test
  • Your passenger was under the age of fourteen

If your prior DUI conviction occurred within the last 10 years, you cannot drive for Uber or Lyft in California.

A DUI remains on your driving record for 10 years after which time it is expunged and does not show up on background checks. If you possess a felony DUI record, regardless of how many years ago it happened, neither Uber nor Lyft will let you work for them.

Find a Los Angeles DUI Lawyer Near Me

It's important to understand California's DUI statutes and the related consequences whenever you are stopped by a law enforcement officer while operating a motor vehicle. The best method of understanding these laws is to speak with a criminal defense attorney who focuses on representing those accused of DUI. Call the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney at 424-333-0943 for a free consultation today.