Do I need a lawyer for a first-time DUI? Like every state, California treats driving under the influence of alcohol, or DUI, extremely seriously. This is because alcohol impairment and intoxication can severely impact a driver‘s ability to operate their vehicle safely.
Alcohol is a depressant that slows down the functioning of a driver’s central nervous system (CNS). Consequently, impaired or intoxicated drivers might notice immediate visual impairment and limitations on their ability to concentrate and overall mental capacity. They may also experience delayed reaction time while driving.
Even first-time DUI convictions carry significant penalties. Therefore, if you don’t have any prior DUIs on your record, you should still retain an experienced lawyer to represent you throughout your case.
Your lawyer can guide you throughout the process and review your legal options with you in clear and easy-to-understand terms. In some instances, you may raise a solid legal defense to your pending DUI charge, which the state prosecutor has brought against you. You can negotiate a favorable plea deal with the state prosecutor handling your case at other times.
A skilled DUI defense lawyer can help you select the best options for your case and secure the best possible result on your behalf.
What is the Legal Standard for a DUI Arrest?
Police officers can make a DUI arrest if a driver performs poorly on a field sobriety test that they administer. To determine whether or not a driver is legally intoxicated, a police officer may ask the driver to perform a heel-to-toe walking test, horizontal gaze nystagmus test, or some other field sobriety test. If the driver performs poorly on the test, usually on the side of the road, the police officer can arrest the driver for DUI.
At other times, a police officer may subject a suspected drunk driver to a Breathalyzer test. Some police officers will use portable Breathalyzer devices to administer the test during traffic stops. At other times, officers may transport the driver to the police station and administer the Breathalyzer test there.
Drivers with a certain blood alcohol concentration (BAC), as measured by a Breathalyzer device, are legally intoxicated. First, minor drivers under 21 years old may not have a BAC of 0.01 percent or higher. Otherwise, they are legally intoxicated. Therefore, California essentially employs a zero-tolerance policy for minor drivers.
Similarly, stringent DUI standards also apply to commercial vehicle drivers, including individuals who operate 18-wheelers, big rigs, tractor-trailers, and other large vehicles for a living. These drivers are legally intoxicated if Breathalyzer evidence determines their BAC to be 0.04 percent or higher.
Finally, passenger vehicle drivers are legally intoxicated with a 0.08 percent BAC or higher.
If a driver’s BAC exceeds the established legal limit, a police officer can arrest them on the spot and read them their Miranda rights. At that point, the driver is officially in police custody. If a police officer begins asking the driver questions, the driver should immediately assert their Fifth Amendment right to the presence of legal counsel during questioning.
At that time, all questioning must stop until legal counsel becomes available. When a lawyer is present during police questioning, the lawyer may object to specific questions on the driver’s behalf, thereby protecting the driver’s legal rights.
If a police officer continues to question the driver, even after they assert their right to the presence of counsel, any incriminating evidence the officer subsequently obtains may be subject to suppression if the case proceeds to trial.
If a police officer arrests you for DUI, you should reach out to a knowledgeable DUI defense attorney as soon as possible. Your lawyer can be present with you during any police questioning and protect your legal and constitutional rights.
Your lawyer can also meet with you to discuss the circumstances leading to your arrest and the arrest itself. If you can raise a legal defense to your criminal DUI charge, your lawyer can assert it.
Who Has to Prove my Criminal DUI Case?
In every DUI case, the state prosecutor has to satisfy their legal burden of proof to sustain a conviction against the driver. Consequently, the state prosecutor must fulfill each and every element of the criminal DUI charge beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecutor cannot prove even one legal element of the pending DUI charge, they will fail to satisfy their burden. As a result, the accused driver will not sustain a conviction on the charge, and the court can dismiss the case.
Offending drivers do not need to incriminate themselves, pursuant to the applicable provisions of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, a driver can raise a solid legal defense to the DUI charge, thus preventing the state prosecutor from establishing their legal burden and obtaining a criminal conviction against them.
A knowledgeable DUI defense attorney can determine which legal defenses you are eligible to raise in response to your criminal DUI charge. Your lawyer will do everything they can to help you avoid a conviction, legal penalties, and collateral consequences in your case.
What Penalties Will I Face for a First-Time DUI Conviction?
All criminal DUI charges and arrests are severe. Upon conviction, offending drivers can receive jail time, among other penalties. This is true even if the offending driver does not have any prior DUI arrests or convictions on their record.
First-time DUI offenses in California are misdemeanor offenses. If the state prosecutor can obtain a conviction against the driver, a judge may sentence the driver to between three and five years of probation. Moreover, the offender may need to pay monetary penalties between $390 and $1,000.
Next, a sentencing judge may order an offending driver to attend DUI school or a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. Moreover, the California Department of Motor Vehicles will typically issue a driver’s license suspension for a period of six months. The offending driver can attend a DMV hearing with their lawyer so that they can pursue limited driving privileges, such as driving to and from work on a daily basis.
Finally, upon conviction for a first-time DUI, a sentencing judge will typically require a driver to participate in an ignition interlock device (IID) program. As part of program participation, the driver will need to install a portable Breathalyzer device on their vehicle and maintain it while the device remains on the vehicle.
For the driver to start their car while the device is in place, they will need to blow into the Breathalyzer device, which will measure their BAC. If the device determines that the driver has any amount of alcohol on their breath, it will not allow the driver’s vehicle to start.
Surprisingly, jail time is a relatively common penalty—even for a first-time DUI. Many judges will also order jail time if the offending driver does not have legal representation at the time of their bench or jury trial.
Obviously, the best way to avoid jail time and other significant DUI penalties is to prevent a conviction in the first place. A skilled DUI defense lawyer can help you avoid a conviction by going to court with you, making convincing arguments on your behalf, and asserting a valid legal defense to your DUI charge.
Can I Raise a Legal Defense to My DUI Charge?
Offending DUI drivers may be eligible to raise one or more legal defenses to their pending DUI charge. The availability of these defenses is extremely case-specific, and not every defendant driver will be eligible to raise the same defense at their courtroom trial.
First, a driver can allege that the arresting police officer initiated an invalid or improper traffic stop. To pull a vehicle over, a police officer needs some degree of reasonable suspicion that the driver committed a moving violation, crime, or other indication they did not safely operate their vehicle.
The infraction does not need to be significant for a police officer to initiate a valid traffic stop. For example, an officer can pull a driver over if they have a tail light out, exceed the speed limit slightly, or coast through a stop sign or yield sign at a traffic intersection. However, police officers may not initiate random traffic stops for no reason at all.
If they do pull a driver’s vehicle over randomly, the driver or their lawyer can argue that the officer violated their Fourth Amendment constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures.
If the police officer initiates an invalid traffic stop, any evidence that they later obtain, including Breathalyzer and field sobriety test results, may be subject to suppression at a bench or jury trial. This can result in a complete dismissal of the driver’s DUI case.
Next, a driver may allege that a police officer continued to question them while in police custody, even after they asserted their Fifth Amendment constitutional right to the presence of legal counsel. Again, if the police officer violated the driver‘s constitutional rights, any incriminating statements that the driver later made can be subject to suppression at trial, resulting in a case dismissal.
Finally, a driver may allege that the police officer made a mistake during the arrest process or that they can not complete a field sobriety test correctly due to weather conditions, lighting, or medical conditions from which they suffered at the time.
A DUI defense lawyer can determine your eligibility for raising one or more of these legal defenses at your criminal trial. Your lawyer can also explain the likelihood of success on each of these defenses in court.
What Collateral Consequences Might I Face for a First-Time DUI Conviction?
There is no disputing that criminal DUI convictions often come with a whole host of legal penalties, including fines and jail time. However, convicted DUI offenders may also experience extreme harm to their reputations and various collateral consequences that affect every facet of their life.
First, when an individual sustains a DUI arrest or conviction, a permanent criminal record is created. This record will contain information about the individual’s arrest, as well as police reports and other case-specific documentation. Moreover, the file will include copies of any warrants, along with court pleadings and orders. In most instances, these files are available for public view via an online criminal background check. Private companies may also purchase this information and make it available to others for a fee.
Whenever a landlord, educational institution, or prospective employer performs a criminal background check, they can uncover information about prior DUI arrests and convictions. Whenever a student sustains a DUI conviction, they are at risk of losing scholarship money and financial aid from the college or university they attend.
Moreover, whenever an individual applies to a college or university with a DUI conviction on their record, they significantly lessen their chances of gaining admission to the institution. Moreover, employers routinely perform criminal background checks on prospective employees. If they uncover a DUI conviction on an applicant‘s record, they may not hire them for the requested position.
Moreover, some employers have the discretion to fire a worker who sustains a DUI conviction. This is especially true among commercial vehicle drivers who operate large trucks and other vehicles for a living.
Finally, a DUI arrest or conviction may cause significant harm to a person’s professional reputation. This is especially true if the DUI offender is a medical provider, attorney, or another professional in the community.
If you sustain a criminal conviction on your DUI charge, your lawyer can work to lessen or eliminate the collateral consequences that you face by attending your sentencing hearing with you and aggressively advocating on your behalf.
Call an Experienced DUI Defense Attorney Right Away
Many individuals who sustain a first-time DUI arrest are unsure of how best to proceed. You should seek out experienced legal representation in your DUI case—even if it is a first-time offense for you.
Your DUI defense lawyer can meet with you to decide on a plan of action for your criminal case, including developing a solid defense for your DUI charge or negotiating a fair plea deal with the state prosecutor. You can rest assured that your lawyer will have your best legal interests at heart when advocating for you and will pursue the best possible case result on your behalf.