Getting arrested for DUI can be especially overwhelming when it's your first time. Intoxication makes it hard to react properly to stressful stimuli, and you may wake up the morning after wondering what happened and what you should do next. However, it's very easy to figure out which moves to make if you want to mitigate the impact of your DUI arrest to the fullest extent possible; all you need to do is learn about the law surrounding DUIs and how an experienced lawyer can help you navigate the hurdles that have been placed in your path.

What Is the Definition of a First Offense DUI?

A first offense DUI can be either your first DUI ever or your first DUI in at least 10 years. In the state of California, your DUI record essentially "resets" if you aren't convicted of DUI or a similar crime within 10 years. So, whether you actually have been convicted of DUI more than 10 years ago or this is your first time, the court will view your case in the same manner.

The penalties for first-time DUIs are generally less severe than those associated with subsequent DUIs, but being convicted of a DUI can create significant difficulties if you have to drive to work or if you're on the brink of financial insolvency. The state of California takes certain actions to restrict your ability to drive from the moment that you are arrested for DUI, which means that you'll be fighting an uphill battle if you want to stay behind the steering wheel of your car and avoid serious penalties. Even though the legal framework surrounding DUI arrests in California can be intimidating, it isn't insurmountable, and a capable DUI attorney may be able to reduce your charges or even have your case thrown out of court.

What Legal Proceedings Begin When You're Arrested for Your First DUI?

As soon as you're arrested for DUI in California, two different types of legal proceedings will begin simultaneously. The date for your criminal DUI trial will be set, and your license will also be listed as suspended in the DMV's database. While your appearance in a California court for your DUI arrest is mandatory, the legal proceedings related to the DMV are technically optional. If you want a chance of keeping your license, you'll need to contact the DMV within 10 days to schedule a hearing; if you don't schedule this hearing within in 10 days, the DMV will automatically suspend your license. While your DUI trial could result in some significant criminal penalties, the worst that the DMV will do is take away your license for a certain amount of time.

Is Your License Automatically Suspended Upon Your First DUI Arrest?

Technically, yes. However, your right to drive will remain in place for a full 30 days after your arrest if you don't take any further action. If you decide to attend your DMV hearing, a decision will be made about whether or not you can keep your license, and it's true that your arresting officer will take your physical driver's license card away when they arrest you for DUI. At the same time, however, they'll give you a Notice of Suspension, which is a pink piece of paper that will serve as proof that your driving privileges remain intact. Your Notice of Suspension will automatically expire after 30 days, and it will become invalid after your DMV hearing no matter how the DMV hearing officer decides on your case.

Is It Possible to Win Your DMV Hearing?

It's pretty hard to win a DMV hearing, but it isn't impossible. To convince the DMV that they shouldn't suspend your license, you'll need to indicate that the grounds for your arrest are somehow flawed. Since the requirements for by-the-books DUI arrests are relatively complicated, it can be easy to indicate that your arresting officer made errors in their methods or that you weren't drunk behind the wheel if you have the proper evidence. However, the DMV will need you to present hard facts that your arrest was invalid for your DMV hearing officer to even consider allowing you to keep your license.

What Relation Does Your DMV Hearing Have to Your DUI Trial?

While your DMV hearing may seem like a sideshow, it can actually have a significant bearing on your DUI court trial. For instance, if testimony is gained in your DMV hearing that indicates that your arrest was invalid, the prosecutor for your case may have no choice but to drop or reduce the charges against you. While your court trial and DMV hearing aren't directly related, it's still important for you to attend your DMV hearing since this relatively informal appearance could help you win your DUI case when you appear before a judge.

To get the best possible results from your DMV hearing, you'll need the help of a seasoned lawyer who knows exactly how to present your case to DMV officials. In some cases, it's possible to have your DUI attorney attend your DMV hearing in your stead, and they may even be able to take care of this hearing over the phone, which saves you time and logistical confusion. It's best to make this litigator the same person who accompanies you to your court trial since they will already have had significant experience representing your case to concerned parties.

What Are the Penalties for Your First DUI Conviction?

The first time that you're arrested for DUI, your penalties will be much less severe than those imposed on repeat offenders. You'll be commanded to pay a fine of between $390 and $1,000, and the court will usually suspend your license for six months if you're found guilty. However, the court will also perform a penalty assessment, and if your case is deemed worthy of stricter penalties, you may have to pay more than $3,000 for your first offense.

Most first-time DUI arrests are charged as misdemeanors, but certain factors could cause the court to try your case as a felony offense. You should keep in mind that the license suspension that the DMV imposes and the suspension imposed by the court usually overlap, so if both suspensions last six months, for instance, they'll end simultaneously.

Can You Get Probation for Your First DUI Conviction?

The judge isn't required to give you jail time for your first DUI offense, but if they do, the minimum period of incarceration that they can order is 48 hours. On the other hand, the judge may put you in county jail for six months if they feel that your case is deserving of this action. In most cases, however, a competent California DUI attorney can argue that you should receive probation for your first DUI offense instead.

The usual amount of probation time ordered by a California judge for a first DUI offense is three years, but your attorney may be able to mitigate this probation sentence. Even if you serve jail time, you'll still be required to go through with probation, and you'll also have to complete a 90-day DUI class and give back to the community in other ways.

Are Special Penalties Applied if You Injured or Killed Someone?

If you harmed someone else while you were driving under the influence of alcohol, you could be charged with a felony offense. However, even if you killed someone, your attorney may be able to get you off with nothing more than a misdemeanor negligent vehicular manslaughter offense. If you're convicted of a felony DUI because you caused bodily harm to someone else while driving drunk, you'll be looking at between 16 months and four years in state prison, and sentencing becomes even more extreme if someone died because of your actions.

If you killed someone while drunk behind the wheel, a prosecutor could charge you with second-degree murder. The minimum sentence for this offense is 15 years in state prison, but the maximum sentence is life in prison. If someone was harmed by your actions when you were driving after drinking, you'll need the help of an incredibly qualified lawyer.

What Happens if You're Arrested for DUI Again?

To deter DUI offenders from repeating their crimes, the state of California imposes increasingly more stringent penalties for subsequent DUI convictions. Again, keep in mind that California defines "subsequent convictions" as convictions that occur within ten years of your last DUI conviction. However, the clock restarts whenever you're arrested again; if your first DUI conviction was 15 years ago, but you were convicted for DUI or a related crime again five years ago, your next DUI arrest will be considered your third offense.

Up to your third offense, the increased penalties associated with subsequent DUI convictions essentially consist of somewhat longer county jail sentences and longer suspensions of your driving privileges. The basic fine rubric remains between $390 and $1,000, but the court can always fine you more if they see fit. If you're convicted of DUI four times, however, most judges will convict you of felony DUI, which means that you'll spend at least 16 months in state prison. The court will also revoke your license for four years, and revocation is much more serious than a suspension when it comes to your driver's license.

While a prosecutor could, technically, charge you with a misdemeanor for a fourth or subsequent DUI offense, if you've been arrested and convicted of DUI more than three times, the state of California will generally prosecute your case with considerable zeal.

Are There Any Indirect Costs Associated with Your DUI?

You'll usually have to pay for your car to be towed and impounded, and you'll also need to shell out about $600 for your DUI treatment program. The court may also impose "additional costs," which is a catch-all for compensation for the cost of arresting and/or jailing you. Plus, the state of California demands that all DUI offenders contribute $500 to the California Victim Compensation Program, your insurance premiums will go up, and you'll also need to pay $125 to get your license back.

How Do You Defend Yourself in Your DUI Trial?

First, it's important to remember that the only individuals who are properly equipped to defend you when you've been arrested for DUI are seasoned DUI lawyers. If you try to defend yourself in court, you'll lose any chances of having your sentence reduced, and you may even cause further problems for yourself. With that said, if you work with the right attorney, you'll find that they're equipped with excellent defenses that only years of legal school can provide. Even if you feel like you've educated yourself effectively on DUI law and how to protect yourself in court, you don't have the experience of a veteran DUI lawyer, and experience is everything when you're standing before a judge and looking the prosecuting attorney straight in the eye.

When it comes time for you to appear in court to defend yourself against the potential penalties associated with your DUI, these are some of the defenses that your California DUI attorney may use on your behalf:

  • Your arresting officer failed to file the proper paperwork: When a law enforcement officer arrests a person for DUI in California, they have to submit a variety of different forms that cover the details of the arrest. If they commit serious errors when submitting this paperwork, your DUI lawyer may have sufficient grounds to request that your DUI charges be dropped.
  • Your arresting officer didn't watch you for 15 minutes: To ensure that you don't regurgitate or take any other actions that could alter your blood alcohol levels, arresting officers are required to observe anyone who they suspect was driving under the influence of alcohol for 15 minutes before they administer a breath analysis test. If your arresting officer failed to observe this 15-minute observation period, there is a reasonable doubt that your DUI-worthy BAC reading may have been caused by factors other than the alcohol you drank before driving.
  • Your arresting officer didn't have probable cause for pulling you over: For an arresting officer to pull a person over for drunk driving in California, they must have probable cause, or a good reason, for pulling that person over. In most cases, erratic driving patterns are used as evidence for probable cause, but if your arresting officer pulled you over based on your race or ethnicity, it may be found that they didn't have probable cause for their DUI investigation and subsequent arrest.
  • Residual mouth alcohol caused your high BAC: Devices that test BAC are designed to test the levels of alcohol in your blood, not in your mouth. However, breath testing devices can be altered by the presence of alcohol in your mouth, and your lawyer may use the argument that residual mouth alcohol caused your high BAC reading. Alcohol may be on your breath if you used breath fresheners or if you just took a drink, and this type of presence of alcohol isn't usually sufficient grounds for a DUI arrest.
  • Your behavior and appearance weren't caused by intoxication: If you're sick, fatigued, or have allergies, you can exhibit many of the same symptoms that are associated with drunkenness. If your BAC wasn't actually over the legal limit, or if your arresting officer failed to perform a proper breath analysis test, your lawyer may be able to argue that your appearance of alcohol intoxication was actually caused by some benign factor.
  • Your erratic driving wasn't caused by intoxication: While most arresting officers use erratic driving patterns as grounds for a DUI investigation, erratic driving on its own isn't a sufficient indicator of alcohol intoxication. If other aspects of your arresting officer's investigation have also been disqualified by countermanding evidence, it may be possible to argue that your erratic driving was actually caused by fatigue or distraction instead of intoxication.

Talk to a California DUI Lawyer Near Me

Even if you've never been arrested for DUI before, the state of California will still do everything in its power to impose incredibly harsh penalties on you for your choices. Other states may be lenient, but avoiding hefty fines, lengthy license suspensions, and jail time is only possible in California if you're represented by an attorney who knows how to handle him or herself in the courtroom with poise and clarity. When you work with the lawyers at Vista DUI Attorney Law Firm, you'll be provided with the opportunity to express the details of your case in an initial consultation, and the attorneys at this firm will handle the logistical aspects of your case from start to finish to help you avoid a headache that can sometimes be associated with the process of defending yourself from a DUI charge in California. To get the help you need to fight your DUI and protect your interests in court, call the offices of Vista DUI Attorney Law Firm at 760-691-1540 today.