Being charged with a DUI can upend anyone’s life in an instant. However, without the proper legal guidance, a driver charged with a DUI can face the uphill battle of criminal and civil penalties that can impact that driver’s finances and future. Although California has some of the most rigid DUI laws in the country, an experienced Hesperia DUI lawyer from Moody Law can provide critical legal counseling and defense to help you navigate the uneasy path ahead.
What is a DUI?
DUI stands for “driving under the influence,” which can also be expressed as “driving while impaired” (DWI). A person is typically charged with a DUI when operating a motor vehicle impaired by a controlled substance like drugs or alcohol. However, any motorist can be charged with a DUI regardless of the type of motor vehicle they are operating or the controlled substance they have ingested.
California DUI Charges by the Numbers
According to 2019 data compiled by Responsibility.org, a national nonprofit focused on addressing impaired driving, California experiences some of the DUI-related issues in the country:
- Of the 10,142 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities nationally, 949 occurred in California.
- Of the 949 driving fatalities in California, 88 involved a minor under 21 years old.
- Of the 1,024,508 DUI arrests that occurred nationally, 120,262 were in California.
DUI Laws in California
Although DUI charges can seem similar, every circumstance is different. For example, many DUI charges can be a routine case of a person driving home from late drinks with a friend. Still, other DUI charges can involve the type of substance impairing the driver, the driver’s age, open container laws, and others. Below are the various California laws that comprise most DUI charges.
Under California’s drunk/drugged driving statutes, motorists can be pulled over and charged with a DUI under the influence of any intoxicating substance. So long as the substance can impair a person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle, driving after having consumed the substance can prompt a DUI.
The law does not distinguish between prescription, over-the-counter, alcohol, or controlled or legal substances. For example, many over-the-counter cold and flu medications contain a warning label stating the substance can cause drowsiness or dizziness. If it is proven a motorist was impaired by consuming enough cough syrup to cause drowsiness, then that can be considered a valid DUI charge under California law.
Possession of Alcohol or Cannabis in a Motor Vehicle
It is not illegal for a motorist to transport a lawful amount of alcohol or cannabis in their vehicle. However, like most states, California prohibits using these controlled substances while operating a motor vehicle.
If a motorist is caught with an open container of alcohol in their vehicle, or consuming alcohol or cannabis while operating their vehicle, that motorist can be charged with a DUI. However, suppose a motorist is operating a taxi, camper/motorhome, or bus with open containers or active consumption in the vehicle. In that case, the driver will not necessarily receive a DUI charge unless the driver was also consuming the substance.
When using a motor vehicle to transport a lawful amount of a controlled substance, the driver should place the substance in the trunk or a non-passenger area of the vehicle if the substance is opened or unsealed. Sealed containers may be transported in the passenger area of a vehicle.
Drivers Under 21 Years of Age
As discussed below, California can levy significant penalties on a driver charged with a DUI. However, California has also taken a zero-tolerance stance on enforcing drivers under the age of 21 that drive under the influence of alcohol, drive while consuming alcohol, or possess any containers or alcohol in their vehicle.
Under California law, a driver under 21 years of age cannot possess a sealed or unopened container of alcohol while operating a vehicle—unless an adult is the owner of the alcohol and it is lawfully stored in the vehicle. Minors caught with alcohol in their vehicle will have their vehicle impounded for a maximum of 30 days and face a maximum fine of $1,000. Further, minors can have their licenses suspended for up to 30 days or face a delay in issuing their first driver’s license if caught while using a driving permit.
Minors found to have consumed alcohol—a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.01% or higher–must complete a DUI education program. Subsequent penalties can result in civil fines, revocation of the driver’s license, and possible incarceration.
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is a measurement used to determine the level of alcohol contained in a person’s blood. Many states, including California, have created a statutory framework to establish a driver’s BAC and criminal culpability. At certain thresholds, a person’s BAC will determine whether they are driving under the influence. BAC can also determine the additional forms of punishment or penalties levied against the driver.
A person can be charged with a DUI if they exhibit the following BAC levels:
- 0.08% or higher for drivers 21 years of age or older.
- 0.01% for drivers under 21 years of age.
- 0.01% or higher if the driver is on DUI probation—regardless of age.
- 0.04% or higher if the vehicle requires a commercial driver’s license (CDL)—regardless of whether a CDL holder is operating the vehicle.
- 0.04% or higher if a passenger for hire is present in the vehicle.
The most accurate way to obtain a person’s alcohol level is by conducting a blood test. However, because police officers operating in the field cannot conduct blood tests, they must use breathalyzers. A breathalyzer is a device a person can blow into and calculate their BAC within seconds of administering the test.
Although factors like height, weight, gender, and genetics can impact the results of the breathalyzer, most people that consume more than 1.5 oz of 80-100 proof hard liquor, five to ten ounces of 12-14% table wine, or 12 ounces of 5% or more beer can blow a 0.08% or higher BAC.
Understanding California DUI Penalties
Under California law, a person charged with a DUI can receive two forms of penalties: legal and administrative. Legal penalties are imposed by a court of law, while administrative penalties are imposed by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
A California court of law can only impose a legal DUI penalty. Once charged and convicted of a DUI, a court must impose the following requirements and penalties:
- Enrollment in a DUI program: a course designed to teach drivers the dangers of driving while impaired.
- Filing SR-22/ SR-1P: a form, filed by drivers, to obtain a certificate showing that the driver has purchased the minimum required automobile insurance coverage.
- Fees: drivers must pay fees associated with restricting and reissuing their driver’s license.
Subsequent DUI charges, or additional penalties associated with the first DUI charge, can include the following:
- Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID), a breathalyzer device attached to the vehicle that will prevent a vehicle from starting unless the operator can blow an acceptable BAC score.
- Two-year suspension of a license or total revocation for up to five years.
- Enrollment in additional DUI programs.
- Up to six months of jail time for the first offense.
- Up to $1,000 in fees for the first offense.
DUI convictions can remain on a person’s driving and legal record for up ten years. Depending on the conviction, some DUI charges may be eligible for expungement from a driver’s criminal record, but some may not.
Administrative penalties occur through law enforcement agencies and the DMV. Unlike legal penalties that levy punishment, administrative penalties focus more on the driver’s ability to operate vehicles during and after a DUI criminal proceeding.
When a driver is found to be driving under the influence, a law enforcement officer may, upon arrest, take custody of the person’s driver’s license. Further, the officer may issue a temporary license for 30 days or suspend the person’s license—pending criminal proceedings. Finally, a driver may seek an appeal to the decision at an administrative hearing conducted by the DMV.
Depending on the nature of the DUI conviction, some drivers may face civil liability in the form of personal injury or other lawsuits associated with the conviction. For example, if a driver is involved in a car accident, a DUI conviction arising from the accident can harm that driver’s defense in a civil lawsuit, which may impose additional financial costs to the driver.
Common DUI Defenses
No one should ever operate a motor vehicle after drinking or consuming excessive drugs and conjure up ways to “beat” a DUI charge. Wives’ tales of excessive water drinking, bubblegum chewing, or consuming breath mints will not help anyone. Instead, common defenses to a DUI charge encompass improper procedure or testing on the part of law enforcement.
California law requires law enforcement agencies to conduct a series of administrative and procedural tasks while testing drivers for DUI. A criminal case can be dismissed for a police officer’s or law enforcement agency’s failure to maintain proper procedural and testing requirements. These can include:
- Failure to conduct an observation period before testing the driver.
- Failure to train personnel on the use of testing equipment.
- Improper administration of blood and breathalyzer tests.
- Failure to maintain equipment.
- Failure to properly collect and store blood and bodily fluids for analysis.
Violation of Civil Rights
Generally, law enforcement personnel violate a driver’s civil rights by failing to execute a lawful traffic stop or failing to advise the driver of their rights. A police officer must have probable cause to execute the stop of a vehicle on a public road. To generate probable cause, the officer must be reasonably suspicious of a driver’s actions, which can encompass erratic driving or unlawful conduct.
Furthermore, if an officer detains a driver, they must “Mirandize” the driver by reading them their rights once in custody. Failure by law enforcement to conduct a lawful traffic stop or not advise the driver of their rights can result in the DU charge’s dismissal.
A Private Attorney’s Role in a DUI Case
Unlike most car accident cases handled in civil court, a DUI charge is a criminal penalty impacting a driver’s liberty. A driver with an experienced Hesperia DUI lawyer by their side can trust they are receiving a quality defense.
Public Defender vs. Private Attorney
Under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, every person charged with a crime in the U.S. that cannot afford a lawyer must be provided legal representation. Thus, to comply with this fundamental right, all jurisdictions across the U.S. have established an office of public defenders to provide that representation.
Although public defenders provide an incredible service to our country, hiring a DUI defense attorney provides unique advantages. An experienced DUI defense attorney allows the client to engage with their attorney more frequently and openly, unlike many overworked public defenders. Further, a public defender can only work with the resources provided by their office, but a private attorney can utilize a much broader range of resources to defend a case.
Costs Associated with a DUI Defense
Costs vary for a DUI defense, including whether this is the first or subsequent offense for a particular driver. Costs associated with a proper DUI defense can include the following:
- Court filing fees.
- Attorney’s fees.
- Vehicle impound fees.
- DMV administrative fees.
- DUI program fees.
- IID installation and maintenance fees.
Duration of a DUI Case
Because every case is different, it is difficult to establish the length of time it takes to address a DUI charge. However, most cases can take between two to six months, depending on whether this was the driver’s first offense and whether the case involves unique factors like the occurrence of an accident or the driver was underaged.
Contact Moody Law Today
Once a driver has been charged with a DUI, the driver or their loved ones must seek legal representation as soon as possible. The early stages of any criminal proceeding, including a DUI charge, can be critical to the case’s outcome. With assistance from an experienced Hesperia DUI lawyer, you can get a handle on the legal defense immediately. Contact Moody Law today by calling us at (760) 867-3300 or completing our online contact form for a consultation.