California DUI / Drunk Driving Offenses
If you drink and drive, you could be charged with a number of drunk driving offenses under California law. For example, it is unlawful to drive in California if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is found to be 0.08% or higher and you are 21 years of age or older. It is also illegal to drive in California if you are under the age of 21 with a BAC of 0.01% or higher, or if you are driving a commercial vehicle with a BAC of 0.04% or higher. California Vehicle Codes 23152 – 23229.1 describe the various crimes associated with alcohol and driving a vehicle.
Common Drunk Driving Offenses
- DUI of Alcohol or Drugs – VC 23152(a). Under California Vehicle Code 23152(a), it is unlawful for you to drive while under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drug in California.
- DUI with BAC over 0.08% – VC 23152(b). Under California Vehicle Code 23152, if you drive with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher, by weight, you could be charged with driving under the influence (DUI).
- DUI while on Probation – VC 23154. Under California Vehicle Code 23154, if you are on probation for previously driving under the influence, it is unlawful for you to drive with a blood alcohol level of 0.01% or greater.
- Underage DUI – VC 23136. Under California Vehicle Code 23136, it is unlawful for any person under the age of 21 to drive with a BAC of .01% or higher.
How Will DUI Offenses Be Prosecuted?
In order for you to be convicted of a drunk driving offense, the prosecution must prove several elements beyond a reasonable doubt. These elements may vary depending on the particular offense you are being prosecuted for; however, the prosecution is typically required to prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict you of most DUI offenses:
- You drove a vehicle; AND
- When you drove, you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Additional elements may apply, depending on the type of drunk driving offense you have been charged with. In order to prove all of these elements, the prosecution will analyze evidence in your case, such as:
- Whether the officer had reasonable cause to pull you over (i.e. whether you committed a traffic violation);
- The arresting officer’s accounts of the alleged incident (i.e. the police report) including:
- Whether you showed signs or symptoms of intoxication (i.e. bloodshot or watery eyes, the odor of alcohol on your breath; slurred speech, unsteady gait, etc.); and
- The officer’s observations of your performance on field sobriety tests;
- Your BAC level at the time you were driving based on your blood or breath chemical test; OR
- Whether you have a criminal history of DUI or substance abuse.
Sentencing and Punishment for Drunk Driving Offenses
Sentencing and punishment for DUI vary depending on your type of DUI offense, your criminal history, the specific details of your case, and even the court or county you are being prosecuted in. The legal consequences of DUI offenses include:
A first-time DUI is a misdemeanor in California. Under California Vehicle Code 23152, if you are 21 years of age or older and you are convicted of your first DUI, you face a sentence of 48 hours to 6 months in county jail, a maximum $390 fine plus additional penalty assessments, and up to six months of mandatory license suspension. In addition, you will be required to enroll in a minimum three-month alcohol program, pay a $125 fee to the DMV for reissuing your license, and in some counties, installation of an ignition interlock device will be required. Upon conviction, you will be placed on probation for three years. If you are a commercial driver, your license may be suspended for one year.
A second-time DUI is a misdemeanor in California. If you have a prior DUI offense and are convicted of a second DUI within 10 years of your previous conviction, you face 96 hours to 364 days in county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000 plus additional penalty assessments. You also face mandatory license suspension of up to two years, and 18 months to 30 months in a court-approved alcohol program. Upon conviction, you will be placed on probation for three to five years. If you are a commercial driver, your commercial license can be permanently revoked.
A third-time DUI is a misdemeanor in California. If you have two prior DUI offenses and you are convicted of a third DUI within 10 years of your first conviction, you face a minimum 120 days to a maximum of 364 days in county jail, as well as a maximum fine of $1,000 plus additional penalty assessments. You also face a mandatory license suspension of up to three years, and a 30-month court-approved alcohol program. In addition, you may be ordered to install an Ignition Interlock Device and will be placed on probation for three to five years.
A fourth time DUI can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony in California. If you have three prior DUI offenses and you are convicted of a fourth DUI within 10 years of your first conviction, you face a sentence of 16 months, two or three years in state prison, and a fine of up to $1,000 plus additional penalty assessments. You also face revocation of your license for up to four years, a 30-month court-approved alcohol program, possible forfeiture of your vehicle, and designation as a “Habitual Traffic Offender”. In addition, you may be sentenced to many hours of self-help meetings and/or community service.
DUI Sentence Enhancements
If you are convicted of any DUI offense in California, your sentence may be increased under the following conditions:
- You were on probation for a previous DUI or other criminal offense;
- You had a BAC level of .15% or higher;
- You had a BAC level of .20% or higher;
- You refused to submit to a blood chemical test;
- You were speeding or driving recklessly during the alleged incident;
- You endangered a child during the alleged incident; OR
- You were involved in an accident or caused injury or death during the alleged incident.
Defenses to Drunk Driving Charges
A skilled criminal defense attorney will be able to raise several defenses in your case in order to attempt to prevent you from being convicted of a DUI offense. These may include:
- Duress. Someone forced or threatened you to drive.
- Involuntary intoxication. You ingested alcohol or drugs without your knowledge or consent.
- No alcohol or drugs. You were not under the influence of any alcohol or drugs. For example, you blew a .01% BAC because you used mouth wash, which is known to yield incorrect breathalyzer readings.
- Improper stop. The arresting officer did not have reasonable cause to pull you over.
- Faulty chemical test. There have been many instances in California where breathalyzer and blood testing equipment were found to have yielded incorrect results due to being improperly calibrated or defective lab equipment. A skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to raise this defense on your behalf.
- Improper FST procedures. Police officer’s are required to follow specific instructions when administering a Field Sobriety Test (FST). If your attorney can prove that the officer administered these tests incorrectly, you may have a strong defense in your case.
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Drunk Driving Offenses
At Wallin & Klarich, we commonly receive questions from those who have been charged with DUI offenses in California. Some of these include:
How is my blood alcohol (BAC) level calculated?
The amount of alcohol in your system can be tested through either your breath or blood. The BAC percentage is determined by the amount of grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood or grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath (VC 23152).
I have been arrested for DUI and I have a prior DUI offense on my record from 11 years ago. Can I be convicted of a second-time DUI?
No. Although this is your second time being arrested for DUI in your lifetime, you cannot be charged with a second-time DUI unless the second offense occurred within 10 years of your first DUI conviction. Thus, if you have not been convicted in over 10 years, your new offense will be punishable as a first-time DUI.
What constitutes an alcoholic beverage?
Under California law, an alcoholic beverage is defined as both liquid and solid material which contains ethanol or ethyl alcohol. For example, possessing vodka-soaked gummy bears or any other creative vessels constructed as a means of ingesting alcohol would be considered an alcoholic beverage.
Call Wallin & Klarich Today If You Are Being Charged With A Drunk Driving Offense
If you are facing charges of driving under the influence of alcohol, contact our experienced attorneys at Wallin & Klarich. Wallin & Klarich has over thirty years of experience in Southern California courts successfully defending our clients. We are confident that we can help you achieve the best possible outcome. Our capable attorneys may be able to reduce your charges to a misdemeanor, or possibly have it dismissed altogether.
We have office locations all over California including Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville. Wherever you live, you can find an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney who you can call.
Call us at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free telephone consultation. We will get through this together.