If you've been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, it's natural to be disoriented. You rely on your ability to drive to get to work or school, and you may also be concerned about the penalties that could be levied against you if you're found guilty. To help reduce the level of panic that you might be experiencing, you should learn everything that you can about DUI law in California, and you should also understand just how much the right lawyer can help you in these unfortunate circumstances.

What Happens Once You Are Arrested for DUI?

After you are arrested for a Driving Under the Influence charge, a number of processes will start automatically. Your arresting officer will inform administrative bodies that your license has been suspended or revoked, and a date will be set as well for you to appear in court. In some cases, you may be held in jail overnight, or you may be allowed to go home immediately after your arrest. If you've been arrested for DUI at any point within the last 10 years, your arrest will be considered a secondary DUI arrest, but if this is the first time you've been arrested for DUI or if your last DUI arrest was more than 10 years ago, your arrest will be considered a first Driving Under the Influence arrest.

Are Your Driving Privileges Revoked When You're Arrested for DUI?

You'll still have your driving privileges after you're arrested for DUI. However, in accordance with California law, the officer making the arrest will confiscate your license when being arrested for a DUI. In exchange, you will be given a Notice of Suspension that will serve as your temporary permission to drive for up to 30 days. If you're stopped by a law enforcement officer after being arrested for DUI, you can present them with this pink colored piece of paper to prove that you're still legal to drive.

How Do You Get Your License Back?

Within 10 days of being arrested for DUI, you'll need to get in touch with your local DMV driver safety branch office to request an opportunity to receive your license back. To do so, you'll need to schedule a DUI hearing with the DMV, and if the hearing goes well, your driving privileges will be reinstated. However, winning a DMV hearing can be hard, so you should probably have a lawyer represent your interests when the time comes to appear before a Department of Motor Vehicles hearing officer. To win your hearing, you will be required to provide evidence that invalidates the grounds of your arrest, and it's important to remember that you only have 10 days from the date of your arrest to request one of these hearings. If you don't request a hearing within 10 days, your license will be automatically revoked, and your suspension notice will expire 30 days after the date of your arrest.

Even though your chances of succeeding in your DMV hearing are slim if there were sufficient grounds for your DUI arrest, you should go through with the Department of Motor Vehicles hearing anyway. When appearing before a DMV hearing officer, you may be able to gain evidence that will help you when it comes time to appear in court for your DUI trial. Also, you should keep in mind that even if you win your DMV hearing, your license will still be suspended if you're found guilty of DUI.

Possible Penalties for a First Time DUI Conviction

First DUIs are usually considered misdemeanor offenses. If you hurt or kill anyone else due to your intoxicated driving, harsher penalties may apply, and your offense may be upgraded to a felony. The minimum monetary fine you'll need to pay if you're convicted of DUI for the first time is $390, and the California Penal Code indicates that you be required to pay up to $1,000 for this offense. However, the state of California may also apply further fines as part of a "penalty assessment;" you could end up paying multiple thousands of dollars in fines.

Jail time isn't mandatory for a DUI conviction, but the judge could decide that your case warrants between 48 hours and six months of incarceration. If you don't receive jail time, the judge can order probation, and your Driving Under the Influence attorney may help you avoid time in jail.

Your driver's license is usually suspended for six months for your first time DUI, and the DMV will also suspend your license if you're arrested for a DUI and your blood alcohol content is higher than 0.08 percent. These two suspensions overlap, which means that if you have six-month suspensions from both organizations, they'll usually end at the same time. After a month, you'll usually have the ability to receive a restricted license that allows you to drive to important places like work and school.

Even if you also serve time in jail, you will usually be slapped with three years of probation. As part of your probation order, you'll need to complete the ninety day DUI school program, and if your blood alcohol level was extraordinarily high at the time of your arrest, you'll need to attend a nine-month DUI class.

What Penalties Are Applied for a Second DUI Conviction?

If you're arrested for DUI again within a 10-year period, most prosecutors will charge you with a misdemeanor unless you hurt or someone was killed while driving under the influence. All of the penalties for first DUIs also apply for second DUIs, but most of these penalties become more severe. While the fine for DUI stays the same for both first and second offenses, you could spend up to a year in jail if you are arrested for DUI again within ten years of your primary offense.

When you are convicted of a second DUI charge, the court will suspend your license for two years, and the DMV will suspend your license for one year. If you've only been convicted of drunk driving, you can apply for a restricted license after 90 days; for instances of drugged driving, however, you'll need to wait a year before you can apply for a restricted license.

As with first DUI offenses, most judges order three years of probation for second DUIs. The judge will also decide whether you should attend an 18-month or a 30-month DUI class.

What Penalties Are Applied for a Third DUI Conviction?

Even if you find yourself with three DUI arrests within a 10-year period, most judges will still consider your offense to be a misdemeanor. The fine for a third offense remains the same as it was for your second and third offense, and your maximum jail time remains one year. However, the period of time that the court suspends your license jumps to three years, and you'll have to wait six months before you'll be able to apply for a restricted license. The judge will order that you complete between three and five years of probation, and you may be compelled to attend a 30-month DUI school.

What Penalties Are Applied for Fourth and Subsequent DUI Conviction?

If you're arrested and convicted for driving while drunk four or more times within 10 years, your arrest may possibly be considered a felony offense. Technically, the judge could still convict you of a misdemeanor for this crime, but most judges will conclude that you have been given ample opportunities to learn your lesson. While you'll still only have to pay a fine of $390-$1,000, you could face up to four years in prison, and your minimum jail sentence is 16 months. You'll also be labeled as a "Habitual Traffic Offender" for three years, and your license will be revoked (not suspended) for 4 years. Of course, as a felon, you will lose your rights to own a gun, and you will not be able to vote while you are incarcerated or on parole.

If you've already been convicted of DUI or a related offense three times before, your case will be prosecuted zealously, and you'll have to mount a serious defense if you want to avoid significant jail time. You'll need a very good lawyer by your side if you receive a 4th or subsequent DUI arrest.

What If You Hurt or Killed Someone While Drunk Driving?

If you injured someone because you were intoxicated while driving, you might be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. A felony DUI conviction comes with a 16-month to four-year prison sentence, and an injury DUI can come with fines as high as $5,000. If you kill someone while you're drunk behind the wheel, you'll usually be charged under California's vehicular manslaughter laws, but you may be charged with murder. If you're convicted of negligent vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, you will be looking at a maximum of a year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. If you're charged with second-degree murder, however, you could spend the rest of your life in state prison.

What Other Costs Are Associated with a DUI Arrest?

In addition to the fines related with your pending DUI arrest, you'll also need to pay money for a variety of "indirect costs." For instance, if you need to have your car towed from the place where you were arrested, you could have to pay over $100. There's also usually an impound fee associated with this tow job, which costs another $100 or more. Your court-mandated Driving Under the Influence treatment program could also cost $600 or more, and the court itself might levy $800 or more in general "costs" lumped in with your arrest.

If you decide to retain a private lawyer, you'll need to pay their legal fees. It is, however, vital to remember that hiring an experienced DUI lawyer can often result in reduced or dropped charges, which can help you save money that you would have otherwise had to pay if you had been convicted. California also demands that you make a contribution of $500 to a program called the California Victim Compensation Program if you're convicted of DUI, which is a fund that helps people whose lives have been negatively impacted by drunk driving.

When you're convicted of drunk driving, your car insurance premiums surely will also increase substantially since your insurance company will no longer consider you to be a safe driver. You'll have to pay a $125 reinstatement fee when you're allowed to retrieve your driver's license back, and if you have to equip your car with an ignition interlock device, you'll need to pay approximately $2.50 per day plus a $100 installation fee.

When you're convicted of drunk driving, your car insurance premiums surely will also increase substantially since your insurance company will no longer consider you to be a safe driver. You'll have to pay a $125 reinstatement fee when you're allowed to retrieve your driver's license back, and if you have to equip your car with an ignition interlock device, you'll need to pay approximately $2.50 per day plus a $100 installation fee.

What Are Some Common DUI Defenses?

  • You were driving erratically, but you weren't intoxicated: Sometimes, a California police officer may arrest you for DUI based on erratic driving. However, your driving pattern is not a reliable indicator that you were driving under the influence, and your lawyer may also argue that most traffic violations are committed by people who aren't intoxicated. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that driving patterns are only predictive of DUIs 35 percent of the time, which means that if your arrest was based mainly on your driving, it might have been invalid.
  • You exhibited symptoms of intoxication, but you weren't drunk: When your arresting police officer pulled you over, they examined you for signs of drunkenness. However, symptoms such as red eyes, slurred speech, and flushed cheeks aren't necessarily signs of alcohol intoxication; they can also be signs of illness, allergies, or fatigue. If your DUI attorney knows what they were doing, they will also argue that alcohol itself has no odor, which invalidates the common assertion that the officer who made the arrest smelled alcohol on your breath.
  • Field sobriety tests aren't reliable: Field sobriety tests, which often involve walking a straight line toe-to-toe or reciting the alphabet backward, can be interfered with by factors other than intoxication. For instance, if you're naturally clumsy, unreasonably nervous, or very tired, you may be incapable of providing an adequate performance in field sobriety tests even if you didn't take a drink.
  • Your breath test results were the result of residual mouth alcohol: In some cases, residual alcohol in your mouth can cause you to produce erroneously high BAC results. Your arresting officer must observe you for 15 minutes before they administer a breath test to make sure that you don't burp or perform any actions within this time since these actions could raise levels of alcohol in your mouth.
  • You weren't mentally impaired while driving: When you're drunk, you're almost always both physically and mentally impaired. However, if you don't show signs of mental impairment when you're pulled over by your arresting police officer, you may possibly be able to provide the argument that your physical impairment was caused by something other than alcohol. Even if your breath analysis test shows that your blood alcohol level is under the legal limit, arresting officers will sometimes still charge you with DUI because you appear physically impaired, but this charge can be countered if there are valid reasons why you might have been physically impaired besides alcohol intoxication.
  • Your arresting officer didn't follow the proper procedures: Whether they acted incorrectly when pulling you over, administering sobriety tests, or filing the proper paperwork, it's sometimes possible to have DUI charges dropped if it can be shown that the officer didn't behave properly in regards to your arrest. For instance, a law enforcement officer must have probable cause to pull you over and investigate the possibility that you were driving under the influence, and they must have also read you your Miranda rights before your DUI interrogation. If your arresting officer didn't conduct him or herself properly in the course of your arrest, evidence may be excluded from use in your trial, which could force the prosecutor to drop charges.

Contacting a DUI Attorney Near Me

The penalties for driving under the influence in California are among the most severe to be found anywhere in the country. While most states simply conduct criminal trials for DUI, California also requires that you go to a DMV hearing when you've been arrested for this offense, which can make simply keeping track of your schedule incredibly difficult. If you want to keep track of all of the minutiae related to your arrest and stand a good chance of hanging onto your license and receiving a reduced or deferred sentence, you'll need to work with a legal team that knows what it's doing. The attorneys at Vista DUI Attorney have years of experience in representing their clients in DUI legal battles, and they know all of the best arguments to get you off the hook. To go over the details of your case with a seasoned lawyer in a free initial consultation, call our premier law team today at 760-691-1540 to schedule your free consultation.