Taking one or two beers when watching a game or after hanging out with friends might seem to be a low risk activity. However, the fun might turn into something you live to regret for the rest of your life if you are arrested while driving home intoxicated. An arrest can lead to a driving under the influence (DUI) charge. A conviction under this offense will have long-term consequences. If you need help avoiding the DUI penalties and consequences, The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm will be of great help. We have discussed DUI law in California, and the court process below to assist you in understanding DUI.

Legal Definition of DUI

California 23152 (a) defines DUI as when an individual operates an automobile while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol, or when a person drives a car with a BAC level of 0.08% or higher, according  to VC 23152 (b). Persons holding CDL licenses can also be charged with driving while intoxicated if they have at least 0.04% BAC levels. Underage persons arrested when driving while under the influence can be charged in California if the BAC levels are 0.01% or higher. The penalties for a DUI conviction depend on whether you have a prior DUI charge and if anyone sustained injuries as a result of your driving while intoxicated.

DUI Court Process

Understanding the whole DUI process from the traffic stop, investigation, arrest, and court proceedings are essential in avoiding DUI penalties. The court process often begins when you are stopped in traffic.

  1. Traffic Stop and Sobriety Checkpoint

You might assume that the court process begins when you are taken to court after an arrest. However, the procedure commences after being pulled over by a police officer or at a sobriety checkpoint. A person will only be pulled over in traffic if they violate traffic rules by over speeding, weaving on the road, not obeying traffic lights and signs, and driving a car with defects. Apart from that, the only other place you can be stopped is a DUI checkpoint. 

Before being pulled over, the police officer must have probable cause for the stoppage. After being stopped, the officer begins to observe your behavior to look for any signs of intoxication or impairment. Some of the symptoms they will be looking for include:

  • The smell of alcohol
  • Containers of alcoholic beverages in the vehicle
  • Slurred speech
  • Glazed eyes or
  • Driver admitting to being impaired

Apart from traffic stops, checkpoints have also been introduced as a way of catching those people operating motor vehicles while impaired. The DUI checkpoint law has faced a lot of legal challenges because it has stringent standard procedures on how it should be conducted. Police officers are not able to adhere to these procedures at times, which strengthens the defense case and weakens that of the prosecution. An excellent defense attorney will need to prove the defendant was arrested at a sobriety checkpoint that is not up to standards resulting in dismissal or reduction of charges. A valid DUI checkpoint must meet specific standard requirements, some of which are stated below:

  • The police supervisor must decide on where and when the checkpoint should be set up
  • The supervisor must also set policies and standards directing the police officers in the field on how to pick the cars to be stopped and how to stop these cars
  • There must be multiple safeguards in the checkpoint. The Supreme Court requires a valid sobriety checkpoint to have warning signs, proper lighting, and a visible police vehicle. With such measures in place, approaching motorists can identify the inspection points from far and slow down
  • The spot for the inspection points must be reasonably situated
  • The checkpoint should be there when there is low traffic, especially at night and on the roadside, to avoid creating traffic congestion, thus inconveniencing motorists
  • The warning signs and lighting at the checkpoint must be clear so that motorists can be aware of the checkpoint
  • Public awareness about the checkpoint must be created in advance to prevent ambushing motorists

If all these requirements are met, then all the evidence collected at such a checkpoint will hold in court.

  1. DUI Investigation

Investigation commences when the police officer notices the signs of intoxication after a stop and requests you to get out of the car. Below are some of the tests that will be carried out.

Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs)

These are a series of physical and mental tests administered by the police officer at the field to establish reasonable suspicion and impairment. The test result, therefore, determines if you will be arrested or not. A driver can refuse to take this test, except drivers on parole or those under the age of 21. Despite the test being voluntary, no officer will tell you to decline the test unless you do it. The tests are optional because there are many other reasons one can fail the exercise that is not related to intoxication.

During these tests, you may be asked to stand on one leg, stand straight with eyes closed and tilt your head backward for half a minute, walk and turn, or involuntarily move the eyeball in all directions rapidly, also called the horizontal gaze Nystagmus. By the end of these exercises, law enforcers will have spotted signs of intoxication, if any.

Preliminary Alcohol Screening

You might also be asked to take a PAS test once you step out of the vehicle. The test results are unofficial and are meant to give the officers probable cause for an arrest. The officers make use of a portable hand-held Breathalyzer device for the PAS. You will be asked to blow into the machine, and the results will tell the officer if they exceed the legal limit. If they exceed the threshold, then there will be a probable cause for the arrest and substantial evidence too. Because of the inaccuracy of Breathalyzers, they can only be used on the roadside.

If you are stopped and an officer finds a few signs of impairment and asked to conduct an FST, you should contact The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm immediately. The plan behind the move to call a lawyer is that the officers might tell you the tests are accurate, whereas all they want is enough incriminating evidence. The signs of intoxication alone are enough to get you arrested. Therefore, don’t give more evidence to the prosecution by taking these tests.

  1. DUI Arrest  

When the test results from the hand-held Breathalyzer read above the legal limit, you will be arrested for violating California VC 23152 (a). Failing the sobriety tests also give the police officers reasonable suspicion for the arrest. You will be handcuffed and taken to the nearest police station, hospital, or even jail where chemical tests will be conducted. You will have blood, urine, or breath tests to choose from. You must pick one of these otherwise, refusing to do so will result in additional penalties over the regular DUI penalties and a driver’s license suspension for one year.

If you agree to the chemical tests, the officers are trained on how to conduct the tests and will, therefore, give you instructions on what you are supposed to do. For a breath test, you will be requested to blow on the device twice, and the results will be out. The officer will then record the test results on the arrest form.

Those who choose to go with the blood chemical test will give a blood sample but under stringent regulations. The blood sample will then be taken to the laboratory for screening. The results for a blood test usually takes weeks before they are out.

After submitting the chemical test, the type of arrest is what will determine if you will be released. For misdemeanor DUI arrests, the person will be set free within a few hours after the arrest and booking. On the other hand, in a felony DUI arrest, one must post bail to be released. Otherwise, you will remain in jail until the case is heard in court and concluded. If you are released after posting bail, you will receive a subpoena or citation to appear in court at a particular date. The arresting officer will then take your driving permit and email a copy to the DMV then issue you with a temporary driving  license. Those arrested outside their state for driving under the influence get to keep their license.

Keep in mind that at the beginning of 2019, after your license has been confiscated due to drunk driving, you can immediately make an application for an interlock ignition device (IID) to obtain a restricted driving permit. The IID device is installed in your car so that when it detects alcohol, the vehicle will fail to start. With such a device in your motor vehicle, you can be issued with a temporary license.

After being released pending a hearing, hire a criminal defense attorney. DUI cases might appear hopeless if an attorney does not represent you. However, if you have a DUI attorney, especially a private one, you are assured they will invest their time and resources in investigating the case. Although the court might decide to pick for you a public defender, stay away from such professionals. The reason being they are limited in terms of resources and time, meaning their investigations are not thorough.

The other challenge with public defenders is that once the court picks one for you if you realize they are not helping in your case and decide to drop them, you can’t be assigned another one unless you represent yourself or hire a private DUI attorney. Also, public defenders are not allowed to defend you in a DMV hearing, which is critical in determining if you get to retain your driving privileges or not. Therefore, hire a DUI attorney because they will be with you starting from the DMV hearing to the end of the case.

  1. The DMV Process

After the arrest, the arresting officer hands you a suspension order and temporary license. The suspension of the driver’s license becomes valid after 30 days. To stop the suspension, you should contact the Department of Motor Vehicles within ten days after an arrest for a hearing. Having an attorney at this time helps a lot because he or she can delay the trial giving you more time to make preparations and also have a hand in determining the DMV officer who will be assigned your case.  By having the attorney file for a hearing within ten days, it means the license suspension is automatically suspended.  

Your DUI attorney is the person who conducts the hearing on your behalf and can choose to attend the hearing through the phone or live. A live conference is always the best since it’s an excellent opportunity for your attorney to cross-examine the arresting officer without the prosecutor around. That way, the attorney can collect more evidence for use in court. However, the primary purpose of the hearing is to convince the hearing officer not to suspend the driver’s license of the arrestee.

A DMV hearing is only for drunk driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher. If you are arrested for driving while addicted to drugs or intoxicated by drugs, your license can only be suspended after a conviction in a court trial. Once the trial is over, the DMV officer determines if the license will be suspended or not depending on the evidence provided.

If you happen to lose the DMV hearing, don’t try and drive around with a suspended license because that puts you in more trouble if you are arrested because you risk jail time and even a further license suspension. The wise thing to do is apply for an IID restricted license before the end of 30 days after the arrest. With Senate Bill 1046 (2018), you can apply for this license immediately. It allows you to drive to work or school and any other program that might be imposed by a court like a DUI school program.

  1. First DUI Court Arraignment

The next scary step after the DMV hearing is a court date. In your first arraignment, you will be charged with a misdemeanor DUI under VC 23152 (a) and VC 23152 (b). Your core objective at this stage should be preventing a conviction. In misdemeanor charges, your attorney can attend the hearing on your behalf, but if your testimony is required, you might be forced to participate in person. The attorney being able to attend the hearing on your behalf saves you the embarrassment from the public and time.

Failure to reach a plea will result in the case going to trial. In the arraignment, your attorney will enter a plea of not guilty and receive a charging report, also known as the complaint. The prosecution will then file the charging document and discovery with the court. The court then sets a pre-trial hearing. The pre-trial date is a month after arraignment to enable the defense to collect evidence and cross-examine witnesses. The case trial might go for months because of the evidence collected and motions to dismiss the case or reduce the charges presented by the defense.

At the pre-trial hearing, the prosecution will submit additional discovery that they might have gathered and also hand over some of the things the defense might have requested before the pre-trial. Various motions to suppress can then be made on the basis that the defendant was arrested after an illegal traffic stop or at a DUI checkpoint that didn’t meet court requirements. 

Similarly, the defense can file motion because the chemical test results were erroneous. During these motions, based on the evidence submitted by the defense, the prosecutor might decide to lower charges to prevent the motion from being granted. But if the motions are given, the case might be thrown out or charges reduced.

If a settlement is arrived at and you plead to a drunk driving charge or a lesser one, you can choose to plead before a judge in a courtroom or sign the Thai Waver. However, if no settlement is reached at the pre-trial, the case goes to a jury trial.

  1. Jury Trial

95% of DUI cases never reach a jury trial. The majority are dismissed along the way when judges term them as weak cases or due to dismissal of evidence or discovery collected by the arresting officer. The trial is presented before 12 jurors. Your attorney will present their evidence and cross-examine witnesses in the presence of the jury so that they can get to hear all the evidence surrounding the case. The attorneys make closing arguments, and then the jury retreats to the deliberating room. Here, they evaluate all the evidence to decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

Penalties for a DUI Conviction 

After a decision is made, and the jury finds you guilty of the DUI offense, you will face the following sentences.

First Offense Misdemeanor DUI

If convicted under 1st offense misdemeanor DUI, the penalties are:

  • One hundred and eighty days in LA County jail
  • A fine of dollars three hundred and sixty dollars to one thousand dollars
  • Mandatory 180 days IID period, or
  • Attendance of a three to nine months DUI program

Second Offense Misdemeanor DUI

A conviction under this charge will attract the following penalties:

  • Four days to 365 days in county jail
  • $360 to $1,000 fine
  • Ignition interlock device period of one year, and
  • Attendance of an eighteen or thirty months DUI program

Third Offense Misdemeanor DUI

The penalties here are as follows:

  • Four to twelve months in jail
  • A fine of between $360 to $1,000
  • Twenty-four months IID period, or
  • Attendance of a two and a half years DUI program

Misdemeanor DUI with Injury

Any DUI offense with injuries is charged as a wobbler. If found guilty under misdemeanor DUI with injury, you will be sentenced from 5 to 365 days in jail, between $390 to $5,000 fine plus restitution to those who sustained injuries, an IID period of six months, and three, eight and thirty months in a DUI program.

First Offense Felony DUI with Injury

Felony DUI convictions attract severe consequences. If you are convicted of this type of charge, the penalties are:

  • Sixteen months to sixteen years in the California state prison plus one to a six-year sentence in the state prison depending on the number of people injured and the extent of the injuries
  • A strike on your record
  • Mandatory IID period of twenty-four to thirty-six months
  • A habitual traffic offender status for thirty-six months
  • A fine not below $1,015 and not greater than $5,000 plus restitution, and
  • 18 or 30 months in the DUI program

The penalties for felony DUI without injuries are:

  • 16 months, 24 months, or 36 months in state prison
  • A fine of at least $390 to a maximum of $5,000 plus restitution
  • Driver’s license suspension for sixty months, and
  • Eighteen or thirty months DUI program

In case the charges against you are dismissed, or the jury finds you not guilty, your attorney will file several motions to ensure your criminal records stays clean. Also, he or she will notify the DMV of the outcome of your case and provide relevant documents to your insurer, employer, and the DMV to inform them of the court verdict. 

Find a DUI Attorney Near Me

DUI penalties can have long term consequences on your life, including a criminal record, which makes it challenging to find a meaningful job or be admitted to a college or university. A bad driving record can also have severe consequences in your life. We, therefore, invite you to contact us at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm if you or a loved one needs assistance with a DUI offense. Our attorneys will help you avoid these consequences by exploring various defenses they can use to fight the charges. Call us at 310-935-1675 for a free consultation.