Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, otherwise known as DUI, is a severe offense in California. Its conviction can have serious consequences that include suspension of your driver’s license; but with the right defense, you can easily win the case. Still, most people don’t understand what a DUI case entails. In this article, our expert Vista DUI Attorney Law Firm will review these and many more FAQs on the subject, and how we can help you if you are facing a DUI arrest in Vista, CA or the greater North County.
What is a DUI?
According to the California criminal laws, driving under the influence is simply drunk driving or driving when you are intoxicated with drugs and/or alcohol. You are arrested for DUI if your blood alcohol content is higher than 0.08% for adult drivers and 0.01% for drivers under the age of 21 years. Driving with a BAC exceeding 0.08% is the well-known DUI law, and it is provided under the vehicle code 23152 (b), otherwise known as the DUI per se law.
For underage drivers (those who are below 21 years), the alcohol limit in their blood is 0.01%. This means that the state doesn’t tolerate any drunk-driving for these group of drivers; such a driver would be violating the California Zero Tolerance Law.
The court does not define what it means by being in control of the vehicle. Anyone caught drunk in the front seat of a car or holding the keys while drunk is also viable for charges of driving under the influence of alcohol.
What is an Official Police Report in a DUI Case?
The police report contains the reasons an officer stopped the driver suspected to be driving under the influence. These reasons may include a suspicious driving pattern like driving on multiple lanes at the same time, swerving, or ignoring the traffic signs.
When the officer stops the driver, various questions are asked, and the responses given could be used as evidence by the prosecutor. If the officer determines that you are under the influence through your physical appearance, they then proceed to a test. All the information gathered are presented against you and could lead to your prosecution. Hence, an experienced lawyer is needed to contest these statements.
What Type of Evidence Can a Prosecutor Use to Prove Intoxication?
During a DUI case, the prosecutor presents evidence to prove that the defendant was under the influence while operating a motor vehicle. Some of the standard pieces of evidence for such cases include:
Breathalyzer Test Results
When a police officer stops you for a traffic check, they will first interrogate you. If you are smelling alcohol, have blurred vision, or your speech is slurred, then they immediately administer a Breathalyzer test. However, a driver can refuse to take the test by citing health problems or any other personal reason. In such a circumstance, the officer uses alternative means such as subjecting the driver to a blood or urine test. During the case hearing, the prosecutor produces the results as evidence against the driver, and if the judge is satisfied, then you are prosecuted.
Field Sobriety Tests
The field sobriety tests are questions or physical tests done by traffic officers after suspecting poor driving habits by a driver. The officer chooses the appropriate test for a given situation. He/she can ask the driver to walk in a straight line or balance his/her body with one foot. A camera on the police car often records these tests, and the prosecution can use the tape as evidence against you.
The Blood Alcohol Content Test
This is the run-to-test in case all the others fail. The test requires the defendant's consent before being conducted, and only certified officers can perform it. The blood alcohol test is the most credible form of evidence for a DUI case. If a driver refuses to have either the blood or the Breathalyzer test, it is termed as an obstruction to the law and adds to the charges.
Report from a Drug Recognition Expert
Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) are well-trained experts, who are essential in determining if a person is under the influence of drugs. Often, a DRE is only needed when a driver is suspected to be operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs after the field sobriety and/or chemical tests don’t show that the driver is intoxicated with alcohol. Also, these experts are trained in identifying the specific drug in the driver’s body, and they can also testify before the court.
Can I Go to Jail for DUI?
DUI charges are very weighty charges in California, even to first-time offenders. However, the magnitude of the penalties varies depending on the case at hand and the offender’s criminal history, but you are most likely to spend some time in jail.
The jail term depends on your criminal history, your BAC test results, and other aspects such as DUI causing injuries or death and the presence of a minor in your vehicle.
Usually, the maximum jail term for first-time offenders is six months while subsequent offenses carry a maximum of one year if the offense is treated as a misdemeanor.
What is a Felony DUI?
Typically, DUI is a misdemeanor offense, especially for first-time offenders. The offense is treated as a felony if:
The victim sustained injuries or died. The latter case can also be treated as vehicular manslaughter or Watson murder;
Within the last ten years, you were convicted of at least one felony DUI; or
Within the last ten years, you were convicted of DUI causing injury two times or a wet reckless three times, meaning, your current charge is the third or fourth time for the two respective cases.
Some of the consequences of a felony DUI are formal probation, imprisonment, restitution, and enrollment in a DUI School.
Why Does a DUI Charge affect my Driving Rights?
Licenses belonging to drivers whose blood alcohol content is above the acceptable legal limit could be suspended or revoked for some time. Even though the Superior Court enforces other penalties of DUI, the suspension or revocation of a driving license is enforced by the Department of Motor Vehicles. After suspending your license, your driving right will be affected, and it would be an offense to drive on a suspended or revoked license.
The reason why a DUI charge may affect your driving rights is that the DMV and the state have the mandate of ensuring the safety of all road users and suspending a driver’s rights to operate a vehicle may prevent road risks. Also, drivers who refuse to submit to a chemical test may have their driver’s rights affects. This is because every driver is deemed to submit to a chemical test, whenever necessary, after applying for a driver’s license. This law is known as the implied consent law.
How Much will a DUI Charge Cost Me?
Apart from a jail or prison term, you may incur costs in the form of DUI fines. The minimum fine is $390 for both misdemeanor and felony DUIs. The maximum fine for misdemeanor DUI is $1,000 and $5,000 for felony DUI. In both cases, the fines are generally determined by the amount of assessment fees and other penalties. However, these are only the fines given by the court. There are other costs such as increases in insurance premiums, installation of ignition interlock devices, and scram devices can cost you over $10,000 dollars the following 10 years after your DUI conviction.
What is an Ignition Interlock Device?
The California law may require DUI offenders to fit the ignition interlock device on their frequently used vehicles. This device ensures that you don’t operate that car unless your BAC level is below the required limits. The driver covers the costs of installation of this device. This device is not an assurance for safe driving because some drivers can subject their friends to make the blow, but at least it helps for the transparent drivers.
Apart from The legal Penalties, What Other Consequences Does a DUI Conviction Have?
Upon your DUI conviction, the court may seize and auction your vehicle. You may also be required to pay and attend classes on alcohol education or go through counseling at your expense. A DUI conviction may also add points to your license, and the record will remain for at least ten years. This record could lead to increased premium payments by your insurance company.
In addition to the legal penalties, a DUI conviction also affects your social and professional life. A DUI conviction is a permanent record that shows up on background checks done by employers during an interview. Most employers detest hiring ex-convicts, hence, this could deny you job opportunities. Besides, if you are charged with underage DUI, your chances of getting into a good university or getting a college scholarship are very low.
Spending time in jail may also lower your self-esteem and affect your interactions with other people in society. This puts a toll on your social life and could lead to depression.
What is the Role of the California DMV?
A DUI defendant faces two separate charges, the DUI criminal case, and a motor vehicle administrative case. The outcome of the DUI case determines whether you are guilty of DUI, and as a result, whether you need to undergo the DMV administrative hearing for a ruling on your driving privileges.
After a driver is arrested and charged with DUI, a separate DMV hearing is set to suspend their Driver’s license. A DMV driver’s license suspension is the action taken for drivers who are guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs.
The suspension of the licensee is a separate penalty from a conviction for the DUI offenses. The likelihood of the DMV to suspend your driver’s license is higher if you are proven guilty of the DUI case. Your lawyer has an uphill task defending your driver's license.
For you to defend your driver’s license from suspension, you need to contact a DUI attorney within ten days of your arrest to immediately file for the motion.
How Long will I Lose My Driver’s License for DUI?
Anyone who holds a legal driver’s license in California automatically gives their consent to take a blood test whenever they are arrested over suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs. Under these consent laws, your driver’s license could be suspended if your BAC is higher than the allowed limit. Refusal to have the tests can lead to an extended suspension of your license.
Your previous DUI record also determines how long the license is suspended. First-time offenders attract a lower suspension of four months. The driver can request a restricted license after 30 days, which is valid for five months.
For a second-time DUI offender, their license could be suspended for two years. He/she has the right to request a restricted license, and they can use the license to drive from and to work for one year. The third offense carries a license suspension of three years.
Note that the above license suspension periods apply only when the mentioned offenses are treated as misdemeanors. The suspension periods may also be less if you agree to install an IID.
A DUI causing injury carries a license suspension of six months when it is treated as a misdemeanor. On the other hand, a felony DUI with injury carries a suspension of one year if it is the first-time offense. Finally, felony DUIs carry license suspensions for a maximum of five years.
What are the Possible Defenses for DUI Charges?
With the help of a competent DUI defense attorney, you can challenge DUI charges and possibly get a lighter penalty or complete dismissal of the charges. Some of the defenses your attorney could use include;
Giving Alternative Explanations for a Specific Behavior
In a DUI case hearing, the arresting officer should provide evidence and testimonies of the actions that led to suspicion of drunk driving. However, what the officer may consider as a sign of drunkenness may be as a result of other reasons. These include an existing illness, panic or fatigue. Experienced lawyers always attempt to discredit the arresting officer’s testimony using this claim, hence, reducing the amount of evidence against you. If the judge is convinced, the case can as well be declared null and void.
Lack of Reasonable Suspicion during the Stop
Traffic officers should be sure that you are driving under the influence before stopping your vehicle at traffic checkpoints. They determine the reasons due to several factors as earlier alluded. Proving that the officer had no reason to stop you and acted upon a hunch or a tip could deem the charges as irrelevant and increase chances of your case dismissal.
Challenging the Field Sobriety Test Administration and Submission
Traffic police administer the field sobriety tests to determine whether the driver’s behavior portrays driving under the influence. However, the correct procedures should be followed in the administration of these tests. Even when done to their best, the field sobriety tests could be unreliable since the use of intoxicants is not the only factor that could lead to impairment of your physical abilities.
It is possible to put an argument that the officer did not follow the traffic safety administration protocol or they did not correctly interpret the observations. This argument could help in rendering that part of their evidence irrelevant.
Violation of Your Rights
All tests taken on the field or at the police station should be consented by the defendant, and done by professionals. If you can prove that your rights were violated during the stop, tests, or arrest, your DUI case can be suspended. With the help of your lawyer, you can show the court that some tests were done against your will or threats were used to coerce you into taking those tests. Miranda rights is another reason to contest a case. The law requires an officer to ask vital questions before an arrest, but they must also read to you your Miranda rights that give you the right to remain silent, among other rights. If the officer didn’t comply with the rules, your case may be suspended.
Challenging the Blood Alcohol Content Test
There are different requirements for blood test administration. Violation or omission of these requirements makes the results invalid. A qualified medical practitioner is required to take your blood and process it under strict procedures. Therefore, failure to doing this would make the BAC results unreliable. Sometimes, unqualified officers’ conduct the test and this threatens your health. If you prove this, then you can be released.
You could further argue that your alcohol content was within the acceptable limits when you were driving, but increased when the official blood test was taken. With the help of a witness who knows what you consumed, this could end up being a dominant defense.
Challenging the Driver's Involvement
In the case the officer did not stop your vehicle but instead arrived at the scene when you were already outside the car, then you are innocent. If this evidence is not produced, there lacks probable cause for your arrest, and the DUI charges against you could get dropped.
Invalidating the Breathalyzer Test
When the traffic officer stops you, they may ask you to take a breath test. You can argue that a high alcohol content discovered was as a result of other factors. You can claim to be diabetic, hungry at the moment, or you had consumed foods that have high alcohol levels, for example, toothpaste or specific juices.