Driving under the influence, also known as DUI, in California is a serious offense. The legislation in this area of criminal law is multifaceted and is layered with a number of penalties for individuals who are convicted of driving while impaired. A DUI charge can range from a simple first DUI to intoxicated manslaughter, and the consequences if you are convicted can have a significant impact on your life and your freedom. It is important that you seek the services of an experienced San Diego DUI lawyer if you are charged with any DUI-related offense. At McElfresh Law, we have the skill to fight your DUI charge and help you obtain the best possible result for your case. Call us at (858) 756-7107 or contact us online.
California DUI Offenses
There are many different DUI offenses on the books and each includes specific elements that must be proven in a court of law. The underlying element in all DUI cases is that the accused was driving a motor vehicle while impaired by the use of alcohol or drugs. Often this may mean you are suspected of driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the California .08 legal limit, but it’s important to understand that you can be charged even if your BAC was below the legal limit if there is evidence you were impaired by alcohol.
In California, the possible penalties for a DUI increase as you acquire additional convictions. Additionally, whether a California DUI is a misdemeanor or felony offense may depend on whether you have prior DUI convictions.
- First DUI – If you have no prior conviction for a DUI in the past 10 years, then your first DUI charge will proceed as a misdemeanor. A first-time DUI offender may not be sentenced to jail time as long as there are no aggravating circumstances. However, the offense does carry other penalties that can includes fines, probation, and suspension of your driver’s license.
- Second DUI – Also charged as a misdemeanor, a second DUI carries more serious penalties than a first. If you were convicted of a DUI-related offense in the last 10 years, this will become relevant when the court is determining your fate after conviction. While the types of penalties will be the same, fines, jail time and driver’s license suspension periods will increase.
- Third DUI – A third DUI typically is a misdemeanor charge as long as there are no aggravating circumstances. Nevertheless, after two convictions, a third DUI conviction will attract harsher penalties and you can be designated as a habitual traffic offender by the DMV.
- Cycling Under the Influence – This is a relatively minor misdemeanor and is not punishable with a jail sentence. If found guilty you could face a fine.
No one wants to have to face a criminal charge in court. DUI is one of those offenses that is characterized by mistakes in human judgment. However, those mistakes in judgment can result in serious criminal penalties in California. The key to avoiding any DUI conviction is by hiring an experienced and knowledgeable San Diego DUI defense attorney.
A simple DUI is classified as a misdemeanor; however, there are circumstances in which DUIs are charged as felonies in California:
- Felony DUI – A DUI charge becomes a felony in three circumstances: when there is injury or death, when your current charge will be your fourth conviction in the last 10 years, and when you have been convicted of prior felony DUI.
- Fourth or Subsequent DUI – After three DUI convictions, a fourth or subsequent conviction becomes a felony. Since penalties in DUI matters generally increase with the number of prior convictions, if found guilty of a fourth or subsequent DUI in California, you could face prison time of up to 4 years and revocation of your driver’s license.
- Intoxicated Manslaughter – This DUI charge is comprised of a number of elements to be proven by the prosecution before you can be found guilty. Other than proving that you were driving under the influence, there must be proof that you committed some other act that caused the death of the victim and that you were negligent in your actions.
Under California law, there are some DUI-related offenses that are considered “wobblers.” In such cases, the prosecution has the discretion to proceed with the matter as a misdemeanor or a felony.
- DUI with Injury – When driving under the influence results in the injury of another, you will be charged with DUI with an injury. The offense is a “wobbler” in California law. Accordingly, the prosecutor will determine whether to proceed with a misdemeanor or a felony.
- Boating Under the Influence – California laws relating to DUI also extend to traveling on water. Boating under the influence (BUI) is as serious and equivalent to the offense of DUI on land. It is generally a misdemeanor, but can be a wobbler where it causes injury to another.
California DUI Testing
An essential element of proving that you were driving under the influence is your impairment, and this is determined by a number of testing options available to the police.
Here is what you need to know about DUI testing in California:
- DUI Chemical Tests – These tests include breath and blood tests. Despite the prosecution’s reliance on such results, there is much potential for errors and inaccurate results. However, they still remain the most often-used indication of your blood alcohol content at the time of arrest. Chemical testing should be administered in compliance with an established set of rules.
- Roadside Field Sobriety Tests – You might be familiar with these tests, which are administered by the police when you are pulled over on suspicion of DUI. Just like chemical testing, there are standards that must be followed to ensure the best results. These tests are geared toward ascertaining your physical and mental alertness.
- Refusing a Breath Test – California law includes a concept called implied consent that says a person charged with a DUI offense cannot refuse a breath test or any other chemical testing. A refusal has legal consequences if you are later found guilty. However, you may refuse such testing prior to being arrested.
- California Legal Limit – The legal limit in California for blood alcohol concentration is .08. If you test above this limit, you typically will be charged with DUI. The legal limit is lower for commercial drivers and drivers under 21.
A police officer who fails to follow the established rules in relation to administering a DUI test creates the best foundation to have your charges dismissed, reduced, or to secure a not guilty verdict.
California DUI Penalties
The penalties for DUI convictions in California can vary based on a number of factors. The court will consider each case on its own merits, but penalties may include probation, fines, incarceration, administrative penalties, and other alternative options available to the court.
If you have been charged with DUI and are considering pleading guilty or you were found guilty after a trial, this is what you need to know about the penalties:
- Alternative Sentencing for DUIs – The main aim of alternative sentencing options is to create behavioral change. Accordingly, this will include community service, alcohol rehabilitation, and electronic monitoring with an ignition interlock device.
- DUI Driver’s License Suspensions – If you are found guilty of any DUI-related offense, your license will be suspended or revoked. Even a first offender who escapes time behind bars will generally face license suspension whether triggered by the court or through an administrative hearing with the DMV. The amount of time for suspension will vary and you may have options to obtain restricted driving privileges.
- DUI and California’s Three Strikes Law – The Three Strikes law refers to harsh penalties for individuals with prior serious convictions. Felony DUI can result in a strike on your record.
- Consequences of a DUI Conviction – If you are convicted of a DUI-related offense, you are likely to experience consequences beyond a potential jail sentence, fine, or driver’s license suspension. You may pay more for car insurance, have trouble getting or keeping a job, or find that your DUI conviction affects you in other, unexpected ways.
- Administrative License Suspensions & Appeals – If you refuse to take a DUI breath test, you are subject to an automatic administrative driver’s license suspension. There are options for appeal and you should speak to a lawyer if your license was suspended without a hearing.
The law also recognizes some situations in which penalties will be enhanced. They include the following:
- High BAC DUI – Your BAC level will be important to your charge of DUI. A BAC level of .08 or higher is sufficient to proceed with a case against you. However, a high BAC level can make matters more serious. Although not a separate offense, a high BAC DUI of .15 or higher will increase your penalties if you are found guilty.
- DUI and Speeding – This is not a separate DUI offense, but is a sentence-enhancing factor. If the prosecution can prove that you were speeding at the time of the DUI, penalties will be increased.
- DUI and Child Endangerment – This is another sentence enhancement under California laws relating to DUI. If found guilty and there is evidence that there was a child under the age of 14 in the vehicle at the time of the arrest, your penalties will be increased at sentencing.
It is important that you never plead guilty to any DUI offense until you have first spoken to a San Diego DUI defense attorney. There are a number of variables at play and, while the consequences might not be serious on your first conviction, the progressive increases in penalties under California law mean that you should take all opportunities to fight your charge.
Special Categories of Individuals
Some people are subject to different rules or different penalties when convicted of a DUI. Those may include:
- Military Personnel and DUI – If you are military personnel charged with DUI, how your matter will proceed will depend on whether you were charged at a military installation or outside. In addition to civilian penalties, there may also be administrative sanctions by the military.
- DUI and Commercial Drivers – For commercial drivers, the laws relating to DUI are much harsher than for ordinary drivers. A BAC of .04 or more is all that is required to be charged with DUI as a commercial driver. For this category of individuals, a driver’s license suspension can seriously damage their ability to earn a living.
- Underage DUI – California takes a zero tolerance approach to underage drivers under the influence. When you are under the age of 21, the presence of any amount of alcohol in your system is sufficient for a DUI charge.
If you fall under any of these categories, it is important that you seek the services of a lawyer to avoid or minimize the very serious long-term consequences of a California DUI charge.
Talk to a San Diego DUI Lawyer Today
Everyone is innocent until they are proven guilty. No matter the nature of your DUI charge, the law affords you the right to get a lawyer and to put forward a defense to prove your innocence.
- DUI Court Process – The criminal court process can be very complex. There are a number of phases before your matter will go to trial. In some instances, your charges can be dismissed prior to trial. The court process includes an arraignment, pre-trial, trial, and sentencing if you are found guilty.
- DUI Defenses – There are a number of legal defenses available to you. Depending on the specific DUI charge, your San Diego criminal defense lawyer will inform you of your options. Commonly, a sound defense will include proving that you were not under the influence at the time of the arrest.
- Hiring a San Diego DUI Lawyer – When you are charged with a DUI, it can be a very confusing and troubling time. It is important that you hire a lawyer with experience in San Diego DUI criminal defense. Your attorney will be able to investigate, research, and prepare a sound case for trial. Additionally, having legal representation from the outset can significantly increase the chances of your charge being dismissed or reduced.
At McElfresh Law, we have dedicated years of providing high-quality legal representation to individuals charged with criminal offenses. We are here to help you secure your freedom and return to your life. Call our California DUI lawyers today at (858) 756-7107 and let us discuss how we can represent you.