Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) is a serious criminal offense in all 50 states, though each state has specific laws. Upon conviction, an offender may look at serious penalties, including losing a driver’s license, monetary fines, and even jail time.
A judge may increase the penalties they might normally impose if the driver caused an accident that injured one or more people. Therefore, if you are pending a DUI arrest or criminal charges, you should have an experienced DUI defense lawyer on board in your case as soon as possible.
An experienced defense lawyer can go over the facts and circumstances of your arrest and determine if you are eligible to raise a legal defense to your DUI charge in court. If you are, your lawyer can assist you with asserting the defense and pursuing a complete dismissal of your charge.
Alternatively, if you ultimately sustain a conviction on your charge, your lawyer can represent you at your sentencing hearing, pursue a fair and reasonable penalty on your behalf, and work to minimize the collateral consequences you experience due to your DUI conviction. Throughout every stage of your criminal case, your lawyer will ensure that your legal rights remain protected and that you are aware of all updates in your case.
Legal Standards for DUI
California law treats DUI convictions very harshly. This is because of the dangers associated with operating a vehicle while under the influence. Drunk and impaired drivers typically experience blurred vision, delayed reaction time, and lack of concentration. Consequently, their alcohol impairment might prevent them from stopping their vehicle in time to avoid hitting another vehicle or a nearby pedestrian, causing them to suffer serious injuries and other damages.
If a police officer suspects that a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they may request that the driver breathes into a portable breathalyzer device. They might also ask the driver to complete one or more field sobriety tests.
If a breathalyzer machine measures a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at 0.08 percent or higher, and they are operating a passenger vehicle, they are legally intoxicated. If the driver is operating a commercial vehicle, such as a tractor-trailer, big rig, or semi-truck, they are legally intoxicated if they have a BAC of 0.04 percent or higher. California effectively uses a zero-tolerance policy for minor drivers who are under twenty-one years of age. They are legally intoxicated if they have a BAC of 0.01 percent or higher.
Even if a driver has a lower BAC limit, they may still experience the negative consequences of drinking and driving. Therefore, they may not operate a vehicle safely and carefully.
If a police officer arrested you for DUI, you should understand your legal rights. If you are in police custody and an officer starts asking you questions, you should immediately assert your legal right to the presence of counsel under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. At that time, the police officer must immediately stop questioning you. If they continue, and you say something incriminating, the officer or the state prosecutor cannot use that statement against you at trial.
In addition to representing you during initial questioning, a knowledgeable DUI defense attorney can represent you at later stages of your case, including a bench or jury trial and sentencing hearing.
The State Prosecutor’s Legal Burden in a Criminal DUI Case
In any criminal case, including one that involves DUI, the state prosecutor has the sole legal burden of proof. As the criminal defendant, you do not need to take a witness stand in a trial or prove anything in your case. Rather, the state prosecutor must satisfy their burden beyond a reasonable doubt. Specifically, the prosecutor must demonstrate that you operated a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
This is a very high legal standard for a prosecutor to satisfy in a criminal case. Your lawyer can raise one or more legal defenses on your behalf, which can effectively poke holes in the prosecution‘s case and prevent the state prosecutor from fully satisfying their legal burden.
A DUI defense attorney in your area can determine which defenses you may raise in court. If a judge or jury accepts your defense, and the state prosecutor cannot satisfy their legal burden, your DUI charge and your entire criminal case may be subject to dismissal.
Potential Penalties for a DUI Conviction
If you ultimately sustain a conviction on your criminal DUI charge, a sentencing judge has a duty to impose penalties against you. When it comes to issuing penalties, judges have some discretion. However, they must generally follow state minimums and maximums, which the state legislature establishes and revises from time to time.
The penalties that a judge imposes upon conviction for DUI will depend upon numerous factors, including your BAC at the time of your arrest, the circumstances surrounding your accident, and whether or not you have prior DUI convictions on your record.
In most instances, criminal DUI charges are misdemeanors. However, if you cause an accident that brings about injuries, your DUI case may be a misdemeanor or felony. Upon conviction, a judge can impose felony-level penalties against you, depending on the circumstances surrounding your arrest and your criminal history.
For a misdemeanor DUI that involves an injury, a convicted offender may be looking at between three and five years of summary probation, between five days and one year of incarceration in a county jail, between $390 and $5,000 in monetary fines, mandatory participation in an alcohol treatment program, and payment of restitution to all injured parties.
A judge might also order you to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on your vehicle. This is a portable breathalyzer device that you must breathe into to start your car. If the device detects any alcohol on your breath, it will not allow your car to start. You will also need to pay for regular maintenance on the IID, as well as an initial installation fee.
For a felony DUI conviction that involves injuries to someone else, a judge may sentence the offender to between sixteen months and ten years of incarceration in state prison—or more, depending on the number of individuals who suffered injuries. A convicted offender may also have to pay between $1,015 and $5,000 in monetary fines, attend alcohol rehabilitation classes, install an IID on their vehicle, and pay restitution to all injured accident victims.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) may also impose certain administrative penalties, including a driver’s license suspension or revocation - potentially for years. In some instances, you can petition for restricted driving privileges, such as for driving to and from work.
Obviously, the best way to avoid penalties in a DUI case is to avoid a conviction altogether. You might do this by raising a strong legal defense at your criminal court trial. Your DUI defense lawyer will be by your side, advocating for you every step of the way and helping you make intelligent and informed decisions throughout your case.
Potential Collateral Consequences of a Criminal DUI Conviction
In addition to sustaining severe legal penalties after a DUI conviction, you might also be looking at extreme collateral consequences that affect your life and well-being. Prospective employers and educational institutions frequently perform criminal background checks on applicants. If they discover a DUI arrest or conviction, they may not make decisions in your favor.
For example, if a prospective employer finds that you have a DUI conviction, they may not hire you. Similarly, an educational institution, such as a college or university, might deny your application if you have frequent DUI convictions on your permanent record. Similarly, if you are a current student and receive scholarship or financial aid money, the educational institution may cut off those funds.
A knowledgeable DUI defense attorney can represent you at a sentencing hearing and work to minimize the collateral consequences you sustain from your DUI conviction.
Defending Against a DUI Charge
One of the most important reasons to have an experienced DUI defense lawyer on board in your case is so that they can raise a powerful defense in response to your criminal DUI charge.
First, your lawyer might challenge your arrest on fourth amendment grounds. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. If a police officer performed an illicit traffic stop or pulled your vehicle over randomly, any subsequent evidence they obtain may be subject to suppression.
Moreover, you may allege that the breathalyzer device that recorded your BAC was defective. Moreover, you might contend that you have a documented medical issue that affected your performance on a field sobriety test, such as a balancing test or heel-to-toe test.
A DUI defense attorney in your area can determine if you are eligible to raise one or more of these legal defenses. If you are, your lawyer can assert the proper defense and pursue a complete dismissal of your criminal DUI charge.
Plea Deals With State Prosecutors
If you dace a DUI charge, a defense lawyer may arrange a favorable plea deal with the state prosecutor on your behalf. Prosecutors often place plea deals on the table when they are not confident in their ability to obtain a conviction. They may not have strong evidence against you, or you may have a strong legal defense to the pending DUI charge.
In any event, when a state prosecutor offers a plea deal, you have the option of accepting or rejecting that deal. Your lawyer may also negotiate the deal in hopes of obtaining a better offer for you. In some instances, it is to your benefit to accept a plea deal, while at other times, it may be to your detriment. For example, if you have a strong legal defense to your charge, you can take your case to trial and may end up with a complete dismissal.
During a plea deal, the accused individual typically pleads guilty in exchange for some concessions from the prosecutor. For example, the state prosecutor might be willing to reduce the charge from DUI to reckless driving, which is much less serious and carries far lighter penalties. Alternatively, the prosecutor may offer you a term of probation in exchange for your guilty plea.
By agreeing to a plea deal, you give up certain legal rights, including your constitutional right to a trial by jury and your right of appeal. A knowledgeable DUI defense attorney can help you decide whether it is to your benefit to accept a plea deal from the state prosecutor or whether you should take your DUI case to a bench or jury trial.
Call an Experienced DUI Defense Attorney Today for More Information
If you are currently pending a DUI case in criminal court, time is of the essence. This is because a criminal defense attorney needs sufficient time to meet with you, develop potential legal defenses to your DUI charge, and prepare your case for a bench or jury trial. If you wait too long to seek legal help, a lawyer may not have sufficient time to prepare themselves or your case for court.
Moreover, if you appear in criminal court without a lawyer, a judge does not have to delay your trial date. Rather, they can make you go forward in court without having a lawyer present. This can be potentially catastrophic and can result in your sustaining a conviction and severe penalties and collateral consequences for your DUI.
A knowledgeable defense attorney can assist you during all legal proceedings, including your trial, and zealously advocate for your legal interests. Your lawyer can raise defenses on your behalf, object to evidence that the state prosecutor introduces during your bench or jury trial, and explore other legal options like favorable plea deals with the state prosecutor.
Your DUI defense attorney will do everything they can to help you secure the best possible result in your case, whether that be through a favorable jury verdict or plea deal.