California takes driver safety seriously. Therefore, the law does not go easy on DUI offenders, even if they are facing their first DUI charge.
Although a first offense for DUI in California is generally a misdemeanor, punishments range from three to five years of probation to $390 to $1,000 in fines, plus other penalty assessments.
A sentence can also include:
- DUI school.
- A four-month driver’s license suspension.
- The installation of an interlock device in the sentencing.
You can face even more consequences if you don’t hire a California DUI defense lawyer immediately.
Table of contents
- One Mistake with Far-Reaching Consequences
- Scheduling the Court Arraignment for Your DUI Case
- The Arrest and Booking Process
- Handcuffs and the Police Car Ride
- Fighting Your DUI Charge in Court: Reviewing the Steps to Take - In Order
- Consequences of a First-Time DUI Conviction: A More In-depth Look and Review
- Talk to a California DUI Lawyer Now
One Mistake with Far-Reaching Consequences
Maybe you have a similar story - after one too many drinks, you got behind the wheel, and now you're facing your first DUI charge. You are starting to feel a little panicky as the reality of the situation starts to sink in.
You might be asking:
What happens next? How much is this going to cost? Will I lose my driver’s license or driving privileges?
Your answer lies in a great legal defense. The road ahead will not be easy, but with the right legal help, you can overcome this unpleasant event and move forward more positively.
Understanding DUI Charges in California
If the police have pulled you over for DUI, you probably have already undergone a field sobriety test or received a breathalyzer or blood test. In California, .08 percent or higher is the legal percentage used for impairment.
If the state charges you, you may face administrative and criminal penalties. On the administrative side, the DMV may suspend your license for four months.
However, you can request an administrative hearing to challenge the suspension within ten days of your arrest.
On the criminal side, you are likely facing fines, DUI classes, probation, and possibly jail time for a first offense.
Also, if you get charged with another DUI within ten years, you are subject to a license suspension that lasts a year.
Requesting a Hearing For a Notice of License Suspension
Scheduling a hearing allows you to have your case reviewed impartially for the action taken against you. As noted, you must typically request a hearing within ten days of receiving notice or 14 days from the date of the notice if you receive it in the mail. You’ll forfeit your rights to a hearing if you don’t respond in this period.
Telling Your Story to the DMV
An administrative DMV hearing allows you to tell your story or give testimony regarding the action taken by the DMV regarding your driving privileges. Remember that any actions the court takes are separate from those by the DMV.
Exercising Your Rights After Requesting a Hearing
During the DMV hearing, you can exercise the following rights. Therefore, you have the right to:
- Have a lawyer’s representation or another representative at your expense.
- Review the evidence.
- Take the stand on your own behalf.
- Cross-examine an opposing witness.
- Subpoena other parties for documents
- Subpoena witnesses.
- Introduce evidence to support your claim.
- Receive a fair and complete consideration of the facts by an impartial party.
- File for a judicial appeal or departmental review for a negative decision.
Reviewing the Discovery Evidence
Your attorney will need to call the DMV or send a written request to review a copy of the evidence collected by the DMV within ten days before the hearing date.
Sometimes, the DMV will automatically send you the evidence for discovery.
If you forfeit your right to participate in a hearing, you also give up the right to review the discovery evidence used by the DMV to decide your DUI case.
Scheduling the Court Arraignment for Your DUI Case
Your first court date is your scheduled arraignment, where you’ll enter a plea. You may plead guilty or not guilty and/or request a DMV hearing immediately.
Before your arraignment date, hire an attorney experienced in DUI defense. They can review the evidence, check for improper procedures, and try to get the charges reduced or dismissed.
The Arrest and Booking Process
Once the police officer has pulled you over for DUI, the arrest process typically begins.
The Breathalyzer and Field Sobriety Test
The officer conducts a field sobriety test to check your coordination and motor skills. They use a Breathalyzer to measure your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or to record the level of impairment.
While a breathalyzer quantitatively measures your BAC level, a field sobriety test is designed to test cognitive and physical dysfunction. The test proves to be helpful in cases where a defendant is under the influence of a drug other than alcohol.
FSTs test a driver’s coordination, mental cognizance, and balance. They are always performed roadside after a traffic stop for DUI. Some of the common assessments include the walk-and-turn (WAT), horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), and one-leg stand (OLS).
You are under no obligation to take the field sobriety test (FST), as an officer can still arrest you based on observation alone. However, you will be assessed an automatic penalty for refusing a breathalyzer or blood test.
Refusing to take a breathalyzer triggers an instant administrative suspension of your driver’s license in California. This will happen even if a court does not ultimately convict you of DUI. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to cooperate with the police.
California’s implied consent law, Vehicle Code 23612(a)(1) VC, requires that drivers submit to a breathalyzer or blood test if the police have lawfully arrested them for DUI.
Handcuffs and the Police Car Ride
After the police handcuff, search, and place you in the back of the police vehicle, your car is usually towed or impounded.
Booking at the Police Station
At the station, you, no doubt, remember the booking process. This is where the police take your personal information, photograph you, and fingerprint you. They can legally confiscate all your personal belongings. However, you have the right to make a phone call to contact someone to post bail.
The Holding Cell
After booking, you’re normally placed in a holding cell until someone posts bail or you see the magistrate judge the following morning for the arraignment. Getting through this part of the arrest takes patience, as you often have to wait four to six hours during this phase.
Getting arrested for DUI is a stressful and frightening experience. The most important thing to do is to stay calm and cooperative.
Politeness is key, as are a few words. Planning a legal defense should begin right away.
Hiring a DUI Defense Attorney
As noted, a DUI charge is not something to take lightly. Once the police release you from custody, you should make it a priority to hire an experienced DUI defense attorney if you haven’t done so already.
Do your research
Search online for DUI lawyers in your area with a proven track record of success in reducing or dropping DUI charges. You might consider calling a few top candidates for a free initial consultation to discuss your case's facts and get a better feel for how they communicate and how they can help.
- Ask about their experience handling DUIs, success rates, and fees. A skilled DUI attorney can often get your charges reduced or even dismissed, so their experience is key.
- Discuss your options for pleading guilty, not guilty, or negotiating a plea deal. Your lawyer can evaluate the details of your arrest and determine the best defense strategy.
- Don’t just go with the cheapest option. While fees are important to consider, a DUI conviction can have serious, long-term consequences so choose a lawyer with a strong reputation and track record of success.
The sooner you hire an attorney, the more time they have to investigate the details of your case and build your defense. Officers’ memories start to fade over time, witnesses become harder to locate, and video or audio evidence can go missing after a while.
- Have your attorney request a copy of the police report, breathalyzer results, and any video footage as soon as possible.
- Ask about filing motions to potentially suppress evidence or dismiss the charges if there were any improprieties with how the police affected the arrest. The earlier your lawyer files these motions, the better.
A skilled DUI defense lawyer is your best chance for overcoming a DUI charge. Take action fast; research and find an experienced attorney who will fight for you in the courtroom if needed. The outcome of your case depends on it.
Fighting Your DUI Charge in Court: Reviewing the Steps to Take - In Order
Let’s go over the steps to take, more in-depth, to make sure you cover all your bases.
Request a DMV Hearing
As mentioned, within ten days of your arrest, ask for a hearing with the DMV to contest the suspension of your driver's license. If you don't act quickly, the DMV can suspend your license for a year.
At the hearing, you can present evidence that shows you were not impaired. You can bring witnesses, experts, and documentation to support your case. If the DMV decides in your favor, it will overturn your license suspension.
Hire an Attorney
Don't go it alone in court. Find an attorney who specializes in DUI defense cases. They can review the details of your arrest, look for any procedural errors or lack of probable cause, and build the strongest defense strategy possible. As noted, your lawyer can get your DUI charges reduced or even dismissed before trial.
Challenge the Evidence
Carefully examine and explore all the evidence against you. Review the breathalyzer or blood test results, officer observations, and dash cam footage.
Look for any mistakes in how the police administered the tests or gathered and stored the evidence. If the police did not follow proper procedures, a court may throw out some or all of the evidence. You can also independently re-test any blood or urine samples to check for inconsistent results.
Question the Officer
Your attorney will cross-examine the arresting officer to challenge their testimony at trial. They will look for inconsistencies in the officer's statements or observations that don't conclusively prove you were impaired. The goal is to raise a reasonable doubt about the officer's assessment of your sobriety and weaken the prosecution's case.
With a knowledgeable DUI attorney and a strong defense, you have a fighting chance to avoid conviction or, at least, reduce penalties like a license suspension, fines, and jail time. Staying determined and standing up for your rights in court can make a big difference in the outcome.
Consequences of a First-Time DUI Conviction: A More In-depth Look and Review
A first DUI conviction in California comes with life-changing consequences. Prepare to face legal penalties, increased insurance rates, and a damaged driving record and history.
Once more, you'll face fines, DUI classes, license suspension, and possible jail time. The average first-offense fine is $390 to $1000. You'll be required to take a DUI education class for several months. And your license may be suspended for four months to a year.
Some offenders spend time in jail. That’s why your choice of an attorney is important. They can achieve the best possible results, considering your situation.
For three years after your DUI, you'll need to get an SR-22 insurance certificate, which will increase your insurance rates. In fact, rates may increase from 50 percent to 100 percent due to your DUI.
The certificate shows you have state-mandated liability insurance protection.
Insurance companies must electronically record driver coverage to the DMV. If the DMV does not receive proof of insurance, it will suspend the driver's registration, and they will be unable to drive or park on a public road until they can fulfill this requirement.
Ignition Interlock Device
You'll normally have an ignition interlock device (IID) installed in your vehicle for 6 to 12 months to test your blood alcohol level before driving. Payment for installation and monthly fees range from $50 to $200.
Your DUI stays on your driving record for ten years, and insurance companies will see it for 3 to 5 years. This makes you a high-risk driver, so switching insurance carriers may save you money. The clock begins on the arrest date - not the date a court convicts you.
You may qualify for alternative programs to reduce penalties, like diversion, where a court will drop the charges after completing a treatment program. Or a wet reckless plea, where a court reduces a DUI charge to reckless driving. However, these pleas still raise insurance rates and stay on your record.
Needless to say, a DUI is a serious offense, whether or not it’s your first, second, or third offense. This is your chance to commit to safe driving practices. Doing so can prevent any further repercussions legally and financially.
Talk to a California DUI Lawyer Now
Hire a Criminal, DUI, & License Defense attorney to move forward and regain driving rights quickly. Don’t face a DUI charge alone consult with legal counsel for the best strategy.