Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer is a top-rated criminal and DUI defense legal firm that help clients challenge the prosecutor’s case, understand their rights and potential defenses and successfully represent people facing DUI or other criminal charges in Los Angeles. The criminal defense attorneys at the firm have years of experience in handling DUI cases and helps clients at every step from arrest to trial. A good DUI lawyer can capitalize on the incompetence of police officers performing investigations, erroneous breathalyzers and blood test results, medical conditions rendering misleadingly high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) readings, and other such factors to provide a successful DUI defense in California. There are always more options for defending a DUI case than people think; it is important to pursue legal assistance before it’s too late.

What is DUI as per California Law?

The state of California has stringent laws for "driving under the influence" or DUI. It is not only a serious traffic violation but also a criminal offense with lasting consequences. In most crimes, the defendant does not face any penalties unless he or she is convicted of the offense. Contrastingly, in case of a DUI offense, when you are lawfully arrested, you may have to face administrative consequences, which include license suspension and fees, no matter whether you ultimately face a conviction for the crime or not. Moreover, when you are finally convicted of DUI, there could be additional criminal penalties.

According to the California Vehicle Code, a drunk driving offense is prosecuted with two separate misdemeanor offenses:

Cal VC Sec 23152(a): Driving under the influence of alcohol.

The California Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC establishes that it is unlawful for an individual to operate a motor vehicle “under the influence” of alcoholic beverages, which means driving with impaired physical or mental abilities. Section 23152(a) focuses on the subjective (or traditional) DUI.

Cal VC Sec 23152(b): Driving with .08 percent or greater BAC (blood alcohol concentration or content) level.

The California Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC states that it is unlawful for an individual who has 0.08 percent or higher of alcohol in their blood while driving a motor vehicle. Section 23152(b) is focused on “per se” DUI rule.

Here, it is important to note that you can be indicted with a DUI charge irrespective of the fact that your BAC is equal or above the lawful limit in California if the person has his or her mental abilities impaired to a level where he or she can no longer operate the vehicle with the caution of a sober person, without making extra efforts, under similar circumstances.

In the case of driving under the influence of drugs, you will be charged under California Vehicle Code 23152 (f). This article establishes that it is against the law for an individual to drive a motor vehicle under the influence of a drug, be it illegal, over-the-counter or prescription, or a combination of an alcoholic beverage or any drug.

California law has a zero-tolerance policy for an underage driver (below 21 years) when caught with any measurable amount of alcohol (0.01 percent or more) in your system while driving a motor vehicle. The penalty starts from a mandatory one (1) year driver's license suspension to possible jail time, probation, fines, and compulsory DUI school depending on your BAC limit.

What Happens When You Get a DUI in California?

You are probably aware that DUI is considered a serious offense in California with lasting consequences. In this section, we are going to take a closer look at what exactly happens when you are pulled over and arrested for DUI in the state of California. It all starts with a checkpoint or a traffic stop when a police officer stops you on suspicion of driving under the influence. You are asked to perform certain field sobriety tests and blow into a breathalyzer to measure the amount of alcohol in your breath for an estimated BAC level. If this produces a positive result, you are arrested. The officer will then ask you to take an evidential breath or blood alcohol test at the police station or hospital.

According to California's implied consent law, you must submit to a chemical test, either breath or blood, when arrested for driving under the influence. Refusing to take a chemical test in violation of implied consent law will result in one (1) year suspension of your license after the expiration of your issued temporary license in addition to other penalties. The temporary license is valid for thirty (30) days from the date of issue after which the license suspension goes into effect.

A DUI offense is treated as a misdemeanor in California, and in the majority of cases, you will be released by the police within a few hours of arrest and booking. However, you may be required to post bail for a felony DUI. You will be issued a citation to appear in the court and a temporary license upon release. Your original driver’s license will be taken and mailed to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). You have exactly ten (10) calendar days from the date of receiving the license suspension order to request a DMV hearing if you want to fight the license suspension. If you don't contact the DMV in the specified time, you forfeit your right to a hearing, and your license goes into suspension after thirty (30) days. A dedicated attorney can request the hearing on your behalf, schedule the hearing at a later point (for better preparation), and sometimes even probably influence the assigned DMV officer.

The primary goal of your lawyer during the DMV hearing should be to stop your driver’s license suspension but may also use it as an opportunity to gather useful evidence for the court trial.

You must note that DMV hearings only happen for arrests in cases of DUI of alcohol. For charges of DUI of drugs—such as DUI of marijuana, DUI of Ambien, or DUI of Vicodin—there DMV hearing occurs. For a conviction in charge of DUI of drugs, you will face a driver’s license suspension.

If your driver’s license is suspended, you will get a restricted license within a timeframe of 30 days for driving to and from work or school, to any law court, or any alcohol program imposed by DMV. A dedicated DUI lawyer may help you get a restricted license straight away. However, you must pay heed to license suspension in California. Driving while carrying a license that is suspended is a criminal offense, and may lead to more serious penalties, including an extended period of license suspension.

Is DUI a Misdemeanor or Felony in California?

Driving under the influence charges in California are mostly prosecuted as misdemeanors. For one or more prior DUI convictions, it will not directly affect the charges; however, it will affect the associated penalties. A DUI offense will be treated as a misdemeanor if:

  1. You have no previous felony DUI on your criminal record.
  1. You have never been involved in a road collision that caused injury to another individual.
  1. You have never caused an accident that resulted in the death of another person.
  1. You have not been convicted for DUI for more than three times within ten years.

Given that there are no “aggravating factors” to your DUI charge, your first, second, or third time DUI conviction will most likely be seen as a misdemeanor DUI offense.

In order to decide whether your offense should be considered a misdemeanor or felony, the court will take several factors into consideration, such as your criminal history and circumstances under which you were arrested.

When Your DUI Becomes a Felony in California

Although driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a misdemeanor offense, in some circumstances, it can be treated as a felony.

Your DUI caused serious injury or death of another person.

You can be charged with a felony DUI if another individual suffers injury or death as a result of (i.) driving under the influence, and (ii.) committing an additional vehicle code violation or driving in an otherwise negligent way. In such a situation, the prosecution team might charge you in one of the following ways, depending on certain facts of your case and your criminal record.

  1. California VC Sec 23513 – DUI causing injury,
  1. California PC 191.5(a) – gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated or California PC 191.5(b) – vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated,
  1. California DUI charged as second-degree murder (also called a “Watson Murder”).

Within a 10-year period, you have three (3) or more prior DUIs and/or “wet reckless” convictions. Driving under the influence is a “priorable” offense in California, which means the penalties will continue to become stiffer with every conviction for each subsequent (same or similar) offense.

If you have been convicted for DUI offense for the fourth time within the ten-year lookup period, you are likely to be charged with a California Felony DUI. The prior drunk driving offenses may include a DUI conviction, a “wet reckless” plea bargain, or an out-of-state conviction equivalent to a DUI offense in California.

You have already been charged with a prior felony DUI conviction. If you have even a single prior felony DUI and you commit another, even a misdemeanor DUI without aggravated circumstances, you will be charged for a California felony DUI. A prior DUI conviction could be treated as a felony because of any or both of the circumstances mentioned above, i.e., injury or death and/or multiple DUI convictions.

California DUI Penalties

You should be aware that there are serious penalties and punishments for driving under the influence when convicted. Whether you have a record of DUI convictions and/or whether your DUI caused any injury/death: these two circumstances will determine the severity of penalties for DUI conviction in California.

First-time DUI

The potential penalties for DUI conviction in California for the first time include an imprisonment from 48 hours to six (6) months in jail, a fine in a range of $390 and $1,000 in addition to “penalty assessments” that may substantially increase the total fine amount, 3- to 9-month California DUI school, and six (6) months of mandatory installation of IID (ignition interlock device). With no IID installation, you will have six (6) to ten (10) months of driver’s license suspension, which converts into a restricted license after thirty (30) days.

If the judge orders probation, there is no mandatory jail time, and it is common in first DUI convictions since the court is often lenient on first offenders.

Second-time DUI

The potential penalties for a second-time misdemeanor conviction in California include an imprisonment of 96 hours to one (1) year, a fine ranging from $390 to $1,000 in addition to penalty assessments, mandatory completion of 18- to 30-month alcohol and/or drug education program, and 1-year of mandatory IID period during which you can drive anywhere you want. Without IID installation, the suspension of a license will extend to two (2) years.

Third-time DUI

A third misdemeanor conviction for a California DUI may lead to potential penalties, including jail time of 120 days to one (1) year, a fine of $390 to $1,000 plus penalty assessments, a 30-month DUI school approved by the court, and two (2) years of mandatory IID period. If you don’t install an IID, the period of license suspension will be three (3) years.

While you hope for a charge dismissal when involved in a California DUI case, it is unlikely that the prosecution allows a complete dismissal. In such cases, you may file a plea bargain to reduce your DUI charge to a “wet reckless” charge. This is an alcohol-related reckless driving offense with penalties less severe than a DUI conviction.

DUI with Injury (First Misdemeanor Offense)

Under the Cal Vehicle Code 23153 VC, a DUI is a “wobbler” offense, which denotes it may be considered either a misdemeanor or a felony, based on the specific evidence of the case and criminal history of the defendant. For a misdemeanor DUI offense causing injury, you may receive an imprisonment of a minimum of five (5) days to a maximum of one (1) year in county jail, a minimum fine of $390 and a maximum of $5,000 in addition to restitution to injured parties, court-approved DUI school program of thirty (30), eighteen (18) or three (3) months, and six (6) months of mandatory IID installation or else a license suspension of one (1) year.

DUI with Injury (First Felony Offense)

For a felony DUI causing injury, you may receive an imprisonment of sixteen (16) months to sixteen (16) years in state prison, a fine between $1,015 and $5,000 in addition to restitution to injured parties, court-approved DUI alcohol/drug school of eighteen (18) to thirty (30) months, and two (2) to three (3) years of mandatory IID installation to maintain rights for driving anywhere or else a license suspension of up to five (5) years. Such an offense may also be treated as a possible "strike" on the defendant's record.

Felony DUI

When charged for a California felony DUI, the potential penalties may include sixteen (16) months, or two (2) or three (3) years in the state prison, fines between $390 to $1,000, a minimum of one (1) year mandatory IID installation or else face a driver’s license suspension for up to four (4) years, and/or eighteen (18) or thirty (30) months of DUI school.

Expungement of a DUI Conviction in California

An expungement of your DUI conviction is possible in California if you meet certain conditions and requirements.

  • You must have completed all the conditions of your sentence, including probation.
  • You must wait one (1) year from the date of conviction if you were not placed on probation
  • You must not have served time in state prison
  • You must not have committed another criminal offense within a ten-year window

The DUI conviction will still remain in the records of the court, law enforcement agencies, and DMV. When applying for public employment or a professional license, you still have a liability for communicating the DUI conviction and expungement. However, a DUI record expungement provides you the eligibility for a public or professional license. DUI felony convictions may also be expunged but often takes additional court procedures, such as reducing the status of conviction to a misdemeanor.

Find a Skilled Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer Dedicated to DUI Cases Near Me

If you have been pulled over while driving under the influence and charged with a DUI conviction in California, a wise step to take in this situation is to get in touch with a dedicated DUI attorney such as the Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer. A “guilty” verdict in your DUI case could be harsh without the right lawyer by your side. Having a dedicated DUI lawyer in Los Angeles to defend your case can mean the difference between a dismissal and jail time. Our skilled and well-trained attorney can provide you with more than a strong defense representation; you get the support and guidance from the beginning to the end of your DUI case. Call out firm at 310-502-1314 for a free, no-obligation consultation with any of our available expert lawyers and discuss your options regarding possible defenses in the DUI case. Get in touch with us to get your peace of mind back!