Your life can be brought to a screeching halt when you are arrested and charged with a DUI. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2018, across the U.S., there were 10,511 people killed in alcohol-impaired driving accidents — that's an average of 1 alcohol-impaired-driving fatality every 50 minutes. Law enforcement organizations around the country continue to increase their focus on fighting drunk drivers and making the penalties significant enough to discourage people from getting behind the wheel after drinking.
If you have been charged with a DUI in California for the first time, you are likely feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about what lies ahead. As an experienced DUI defense attorney, I can guide you through the legal process and explain the potential consequences you may face.
I am proud to serve clients in Newport Beach, Corona Del Mar, Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach, Irvine, and surrounding communities of Orange County, California. Call me today for a free consultation.
The DUI Process in California
A thorough understanding of the type of DUI charges, enhancements, and how they are handled under California law is extremely important when you are trying to figure out where you go from here. The following is a list of different aspects of the process used by law enforcement and the legal system in regard to DUIs in California.
Field Sobriety Test
Contrary to what many believe, you are not required to submit to a field sobriety test if you are pulled over under suspicion of driving drunk. Under California law, such a test is entirely optional and can be refused without criminal penalty. Similarly, performance of the HGN and other physical dexterity tests are not required.
The chemical test can be either blood, breath, or urine. In most cases, drivers are only offered the choice of offering a blood or breath sample. A law enforcement officer utilizes the chemical test to obtain a measurement of the body’s alcohol content at the time of the sample. California is an “implied consent” state, meaning all licensed motorists are legally considered to have given their consent to have their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level tested if an officer has probable cause to believe that they are under the influence of alcohol.
Similar to the field sobriety tests, California law now permits those arrested for DUI to refuse to provide a blood or breath sample without criminal liability. In these cases, refusal can delay the drawing of the blood for hours. When this happens, the prosecutors will attempt to backward calculate (retrograde extrapolation) and estimate the blood alcohol level. This never bodes well for the criminal defendant.
Even though a driver can refuse a request to voluntarily provide a sample without criminal penalty, those who choose to refuse a chemical test can suffer enhanced suspension and revocation of driving privileges at the DMV (minimum one-year hard suspension driving privilege).
Driver’s License Suspension
Under California law, a first-time DUI conviction results in an automatic six-month suspension of your driver’s license. This suspension is handed down by the DMV and not a judge. In many cases, the DMV will allow drivers to continue driving while their license is under suspension as long as they agree to use an ignition interlock device in their vehicle or meet the terms to obtain a restricted driver's license.
Challenging the suspension or applying for a restricted license may also be options available to you, depending on the facts of your case.
Ignition Interlock Devices (IIDs)
An ignition interlock device (IID) can be installed on the steering column of your vehicle and functions like a breathalyzer. If ordered by the court or required by the DMV to drive, the device must be installed and maintained by a DMV licensed provider.
The IID works by disengaging the starter an alcohol-free breath (without any trace of alcohol) triggers the system, permitting the driver to start the vehicle. Periodically during operation, the driver will be prompted to provide a random sample to continue operating the vehicle. If at any time a positive alcohol reading is identified by the IID, a digital report is generated and reported.
Penalties for First-Time DUI Offense in California
The penalties for a first-time DUI offense in California can vary depending on the county in which the charge is made, but can include:
An automatic six-month license suspension
A minimum 3-month alcohol/drug driving class (AB-541)
Court-ordered installation of an ignition interlock device
Fines between $1,800 and $2,200
Possible jail time, depending on the severity of the offense
The penalties listed above are the statutory minimum penalties for DUI. A knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense lawyer can give you a fighting chance of avoiding harsher penalties. The maximum penalty for a first-time DUI in California include:
Up to 5-years Formal Probation
Fines of up to $5,000
A maximum of six months in County Jail
How an Experienced DUI Defense Attorney Can Help
With so much at stake in your DUI case — including driving privileges, future lost opportunities, and your reputation — dealing with the criminal justice system on your own is not a wise choice. Abraham Lincoln once said, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Instead, by working with a compassionate and seasoned attorney you will put yourself in the strongest position to gain a dismissal, or plea to lesser charges and protect your record.
Having an experienced attorney on your side can give you confidence and peace of mind that your best interests and your rights are fought for at every step. Let a knowledgeable DUI defense attorney stand up for you and help you seek the most favorable resolution to your situation.
I have dedicated my practice to assisting individuals to find their best path forward when they are going through some of the most trying and stressful situations of their lives. If you have been charged with a DUI in Orange County, contact my Irvine, California office to schedule a free consultation.