Driving a vehicle unlawfully could land you in jail – your regular trip to work could end up in a lengthy criminal case. The California vehicle code contains laws that prohibit certain driving offenses such as drunk driving or reckless driving. Violating these laws can land you on the wrong side of the law. Being arrested for a driving crime can upset your world and frustrate you and your loved ones. You may be confused about the charges you are facing, the consequences, and how you should proceed. At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we take the responsibility of educating our clients on everything they need to know about driving crimes.
What are Driving Crimes?
Driving crimes are traffic violations that range from minor offenses to serious violations that result in injuries, death, and damage to property. Motorists are bound by the driving laws of California, which dictate their conduct on the road. The laws are designed to reduce traffic violations and accidents resulting from such violations. The common driving crimes include:
- DUI VC 23152
Operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or higher is illegal in California (VC 23152 a). Holders of commercial driving licenses should not drive with a BAC level of .04% or higher (VC 23152 b). The legal limit for minors (below 21 years) is .01%. California also prohibits persons on probation from driving with a BAC level of .01%.
Usually, if you have been convicted of a DUI offense, the court suspends your license for a period, depending on the circumstances of the offense and your past DUI criminal history. When you are on probation, you can request a restricted license, which comes with the additional requirement of installing an ignition interlock device.
An ignition interlock device is a Breathalyzer attached to the steering wheel of your car. It detects alcohol in your breath and prevents your car from starting. In addition, it keeps track of your alcohol levels every thirty minutes you are in the car and sends a log to the court.
Driving under the influence is a priorable offense with a look-back period of ten years. This means that, with every subsequent offense, the consequences increase. The first three offenses within ten years are misdemeanors. The penalties for a first offense include:
- About $1800 in fines
- At least 48 hours to 6 months in jail
- A three-month drug treatment class
- 6 months of license suspension
For a second offense, the penalties include a year in jail, $390-$1000 in fines and a license suspension of up to one year.
For a third subsequent offense, the penalties include a jail term of up to one year, fines of $390-$1000 and a license suspension of up to three years.
When drunk driving causes injury to another motorist or a pedestrian, the offense is convicted as a felony or a misdemeanor. The penalties for misdemeanor DUI with injury includes a jail term not exceeding one year, a fine up to $5000, and a one to three year license suspension.
The charges for felony DUI (with or without injury) include a prison sentence of between 16 months and 4 years. You might get additional and consecutive sentencing if you caused serious bodily injuries. Fines for a felony may be as high as $5000.
If there are aggravating factors in a DUI case, you may be convicted of aggravated DUI. These factors include:
- Having a BAC of .15% or higher
- Refusing to take a chemical test (VC 23612)
- Drunk driving with a minor in the vehicle
- Causing injuries to multiple victims (VC 23153)
- Excessive speed
- Reckless driving
- DUI while on probation
- Multiple DUIs in five years
Aggravated DUI leads to enhanced sentencing on top of the regular penalties for the DUI offense.
Some of the legal defenses you can use to fight DUI charges include:
- The police officer had no probable cause to stop or arrest your
- You were not read your Miranda rights
- The Breathalyzer equipment showed wrong results due to mishandling or improper maintenance
- You were not driving the vehicle
- The officers did not follow the right procedures when collecting, storing or analyzing your blood sample
- You have other valid reasons for the signs of intoxication that you displayed
It is important to fight DUI charges with the help of a lawyer since a conviction will affect your driving rights and privileges. In addition, your criminal record will show on background checks; therefore affecting your career pursuits.
- Hit and Run VC 20002
You are guilty of a California hit and run if:
- You leave the scene of an accident
- Without providing identification details to the other parties
- The accident resulted in damage to property
Whenever you are involved in an accident, you have the duty to stop whether you were responsible for the accident or not. The law will not excuse you either if you leave on the assumption that no serious injuries or damage occurred.
Leaving the scene of an accident reflects badly on your intentions and may be regarded as negligence and disregard for the safety of others and their property. If you hit a stationary vehicle or damage the property of another person while they are not present, you must leave a conspicuously placed note with your contact details, a summary of what happened then call the police to report the accident.
When you are charged with a hit and run, the prosecution has to prove that:
- You were involved in a vehicle accident
- The accident caused damage to property
- You knew that someone’s property was damaged or there was a probability of the accident causing property damage
- You willfully left the scene without providing contact information to the parties involved
Hit and run is usually a misdemeanor with penalties such as:
- A maximum of three years of misdemeanor probation
- Six months in county jail
- Fines of $1000
- Victim restitution
- Two points on your driving record
When the hit and run accident caused injury to a person, the offense becomes a felony (VC 20001). In a felony hit and run conviction, the prosecution has to prove that:
- You were involved in an accident
- You knew or should have known that the accident occurred
- The accident caused the injury or death of another person
- You did not provide your identification details at the scene
The judge may decide to charge you with wither misdemeanor or felony hit and run even if a person was injured. When charged as a felony, the penalties include:
- Imprisonment in state prison for 3 or 4 years
- Fines of $1000-$10,000
When you are facing charges for a hit and run, your defense attorney can use the following legal defenses
- Mistaken identity: it is possible to be charged for a crime caused by another person. In some cases, someone else might have been driving your car, or it was stolen. If your car was and you had filed a report for the same, then the charges against you will be dismissed. Your lawyer may also call on witnesses to prove that you were not the one operating the vehicle at the time of the accident.
- Lack of knowledge: you have to be aware that the accident occurred; therefore, you could prove that you were not aware that an accident occurred.
- Only your vehicle suffered damage: if a car accident does not cause damage to another person’s property except your own, then you are not held liable under hit and run laws in California.
- Vehicular Manslaughter PC 192 (c)
Charges for vehicular manslaughter result when an accident leads to the death of another person other than the driver. The elements of vehicular manslaughter include:
- You were driving
- You committed an infraction or lawful act in a way that could result in death
- The act was dangerous to human life
- You acted in gross negligence
- Another person died as a result
The court may charge you with one of the different forms of vehicular manslaughters, such as:
- Ordinary vehicular manslaughter is convicted as a misdemeanor offense. If you fail to exercise ordinary care while driving a vehicle, and you cause the death of another person, you are guilty of a misdemeanor. The consequences for a PC 192 (c) (2) violation include summary probation, one-year jail term, and a fine of at most $1000.
- Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence: when you cause an accident due to gross negligence, it means your actions show a malicious disregard for the safety of other motorists and road users. A PC 192 (c) (1) violation is a wobbler offense in California. The penalties for a misdemeanor include summary probation, one year in county jail, and fines of up to $1000. When convicted as a felony, the penalties include formal probation, 2, 3, or 4 years in state prison, and fines not above $10,000. The DMV will also revoke your license.
- Vehicular manslaughter for financial gain is always convicted as a felony. It is a crime of intentionally getting involved in an accident with the goal of defrauding an insurance company for money. You can spend 4, 6 or 10 years in state prison and license suspension in addition to paying a fine of up to $10,000 when found guilty of a PC 192 (c) (3) violation.
When your license is suspended, you will have to wait for three years after the date of revocation to reinstate your license.
You can fight charges for vehicular manslaughter using defenses such as:
- You did not act negligently or with gross negligence
- Your negligence was not responsible for the death of the victim
- You were in an emergency situation, and the action you took was reasonable under the circumstances
- Evading A Police Officer VC 2800.1
VC 2800.1 makes it a crime to flee from an officer who is pursuing you, or has indicated that you stop. When you are arrested for evading a peace or police officer, the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- You intended to evade
- The officer’s vehicle had a lighted red light that was visible from the front, and you saw it or should have seen it
- The officer’s car sounded a siren
- The officer’s car was marked distinctively
- The officer operating the vehicle was in a distinctive uniform
A violation of VC 2800.1 is a misdemeanor with penalties such as:
- Summary probation
- Fines of up to $1000
- Vehicle impoundment for 30 days
- Driver’s license suspension if you are released on probation
- One year suspension of your commercial driver’s license
If you are convicted for more than one violation of VC 2800.1 while operating a commercial vehicle, you lose your commercial driving rights for life.
A conviction for evading an officer can have serious consequences, especially on your commercial driver’s license. Therefore, you have to prepare adequately to fight these charges. Some of the defenses you can apply include:
- You lacked the specific intent of evading the officer
- The evidence against you is insufficient
- You were intoxicated which makes you unable to form the specific intent of evading the officer
Using voluntary intoxication as a defense may lead to DUI charges. A conviction for a DUI (especially a first offense) has less harsh penalties than evading an officer.
- Felony Reckless Evading VC 2800.2
When you evade a police officer with the disregard for the safety of other people or their property, you are guilty of a VC 2800.2 violation. The prosecution has to prove that:
- You evade a police or peace officer while driving a vehicle
- While evading, you displayed a malicious disregard for the safety of others and property
VC 2800.2 is convicted as a wobbler offense. When charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties include summary probation, 6 months to one year in county jail and fines not exceeding $1000.
As a felony, the penalties include felony probation, a state prison term of either 16 months, two years or three years, and $10,000 in fines.
Reckless evading a peace officer also results in a 30-day vehicle impoundment in addition to driver’s license suspension (equal to the length of your probation).
Some of the legal defenses you can use to fight these charges include:
- Lack of the specific intent of evading an officer
- Insufficient evidence for evading an officer or driving recklessly
- You were stopped illegally
- Voluntary intoxication
- Driving Without A License VC 12500 (a)
It is unlawful to drive without a license in California. You can get violate VC 12500 (a) by:
- Failing to renew your license
- Failing to obtain a license
- You move to California and fail to obtain a California driver's license within ten days
In California, you are supposed to obtain a driver’s license if you use a public highway or public parking facilities. You are only allowed to drive without a license if:
- You are a government official driving a government-owned vehicle while on federal business
- You are driving an implement of husbandry and not on a public road
- You are driving an off-highway vehicle across a public road
- You are a visitor to California aged at least 18 years and have a driver’s license from your state or country
- You are a non-resident with a valid diplomatic license
When charged with driving without a license, the prosecution has to prove that:
- You were driving on a street or highway
- You did not have a valid driver’s license and was legally required to obtain a California driver's license
A valid license is one which:
- Is current
- Is registered for the type of vehicle you are driving
- You are not otherwise required to obtain a license
Unlike most crimes in California, you have the burden of proving that you had a valid driving license. Driving without a driver’s license is charged as a misdemeanor or infraction. As an infraction, the penalties include a fine of $250. When charged as a misdemeanor, you are likely to face penalties such as misdemeanor probation of up to three years or six months jail time and a fine of $1000. Having a prior offense will result in a 30-day impoundment of your vehicle.
Your defense lawyer can fight charges for driving without a license by:
- Showing proof of having a valid license at the time of the offense
- Delaying the court proceedings enough to obtain a license
- Bargaining that misdemeanor charges be reduced to an infraction
The courts in California allow defendants to postpone their cases until they have obtained a valid license. In most cases, this allowance is applicable to first-time offenders and persons who are eligible for a California driver's license.
Even if you are an undocumented immigrant, you can acquire a valid driver’s license (a special AB60 license). The license allows you to drive legally in California and can serve as identification.
- Driving With A Suspended License VC 14601
Driving with a suspended license refers to operating a vehicle when your license is suspended, and you knew that the license was suspended. Your license can be suspended or revoked for various reasons such as:
- Committing specific offenses such as reckless driving, alcohol and drug abuse, a physical or mental condition, or you have been declared a negligent or incompetent operator
- Committing a general offense
- Committing a DUI offense
- You have been designated a habitual traffic offender
- Refusing to submit chemical tests
The court assumes you are aware of the suspension or revocation of your driving rights if:
- The DMV notified you via mail of your license suspension or revocation
- The letter was sent to the most recent address you reported to the DMV, a law enforcement agency or the court and the notice was not mailed to the DMV as undeliverable or unclaimed
- You were notified of the suspension or revocation at the time of arrest or conviction for a crime
California punishes driving with a suspended license as a misdemeanor. The penalties usually depend on the reason for suspension, prior convictions for driving with a suspended license, and your driving history.
If your license was suspended for committing specific offenses or general offenses, you will spend 5 days to six months in jail and pay fines between $300 and $1000.
If your license was suspended for a DUI, the penalties are an incarceration period of between ten days and 6 months in county jail, a fine of $300-$1000 and a mandatory installation of an IID.
If you have a designation as a habitual traffic offender, you will be jailed for thirty days and pay a fine of $1000. Where your license was suspended for refusing chemical tests and offenses related to a DUI, you will spend up to 6 months in jail and pay fines of $300-$1000.
You can fight charges for a VC 14601 violation by using defenses such as:
- You lacked the knowledge of the suspension or revocation of your driving rights
- You were driving on a restricted license
- The suspension or revocation was invalid
- You can also plea bargain to have your charges reduced to an infraction or the crime of driving without a valid license
You can avoid the likelihood of driving without a license by dealing with a revocation soon as you learn about the possibility of a suspension. For example, when you are arrested for a DUI, you have to schedule a DMV hearing within 10 days of the arrest. During the hearing, you or your lawyer will present evidence as to why your driving rights should not be suspended. In case your license is still suspended, you can request for a restricted license, which allows you to drive to specific places.
Find a Los Angeles Criminal Attorney Near Me
Driving crimes such as DUI, vehicular manslaughter, driving without a license and evading a police officer can have serious consequences such as incarceration, fines, and license suspension. These consequences can have long-term effects on your career and educational pursuit since a conviction will lead to a criminal record. At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we are skilled in fighting charges for driving crimes in California. We are result-oriented; therefore, we take time to understand your situation and prepare the best defense strategy. We stick with you during the criminal case and afterward, to ensure your transition is comfortable by helping you recover your driving privileges. Contact us at 310-935-1675 for a free consultation.