What is a DUI?
More than 200,000 people are arrested and charged with a DUI offense in California every year, many of whom are first-time offenders. California has very strict drunk driving laws that impose significant penalties on people convicted of a DUI. If you are convicted, you face not only large fines and fees but potential jail time, installation of an ignition interlock device (IID), alcohol treatment or DUI school, and suspension of your license. A DUI may also impact your employment. In most cases, a DUI in Los Angeles is a misdemeanor, but it can be increased to a felony with even stricter penalties.
What is a DUI in Los Angeles?
All states, including California, have set 0.08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) as the legal limit for driving under the influence, or DUI. If your BAC is 0.08 or higher, the law considers you a drunk driver legally, even if you do not consider yourself drunk. For commercial drivers, a BAC of 0.04% or higher can result in a DUI conviction. If you are under the age of 21, California has a zero tolerance limit. This means even a small amount of alcohol in your system while driving is grounds for arrest.
For a 180 pound person, 3-4 drinks is typically enough to result in impaired driving while 5 drinks will likely result in a 0.09 BAC or higher, above the legal limit. There are many factors that can affect when someone is intoxicated, however. For some people, it takes very little alcohol to become intoxicated. Factors that may come into play include gender, weight, body fat percentage, how recently you ate before drinking, and whether you take medication.
Felony vs Misdemeanor DUI in California
A DUI can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. The majority of first, second, and third DUI offenses are misdemeanors, but someone can be charged with a felony DUI in a few cases. A misdemeanor DUI becomes a felony in these cases:
- Your DUI caused injury or death to someone else.
- You have 3 or more prior DUI or wet reckless convictions within the last 10 years.
- You have one prior felony DUI on your record.
With the exception of a prior felony DUI, all DUIs can potentially be charged as misdemeanors at the discretion of the prosecutor but this is very rarely the case.
Field Sobriety Tests
When you are pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence, the officer will likely administer field sobriety tests (FSTs). These tests are a way to observe you for visible signs of intoxication prior to making an arrest. FSTs, which are physical and mental exercises, are rarely an accurate means of determining when someone is under the influence or intoxicated, however. According to the Department of Education, these tests are only 65-77% accurate at detecting sobriety, but three tests have been found reliable: the walk and turn, the one leg stand, and the nystagmus test, which tracks how your eye follows an object from left to right.
It is entirely possible to fail FSTs, even if you are sober, due to balance problems, fatigue, and health problems. Failing field sobriety tests can be used against you, but you have the right to refuse these tests.
Alcohol Testing in DUI Cases
Most law enforcement agencies in California use a handheld device called a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) device to help an officer decide if someone should be arrested for DUI. Judges typically allow prosecutors to introduce the results of these preliminary tests as evidence in a DUI trial, even when it is the only blood alcohol evidence available.
You have the right to refuse to submit to a field PAS test unless you are already under arrest, are under 21, or the PAS device is the only chemical blood alcohol test available.
California DUI Court Process
Being arrested for a DUI can be very overwhelming, but the good news is the court process is generally straightforward, particularly when you are represented by an experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyer. You will face two separate legal proceedings for a DUI in California: the criminal case for the DUI through the criminal court system and a DMV hearing that will determine what happens with your driver’s license.
The first step after your arrest is setting an arraignment date so you can appear before a judge. At your arraignment, you will plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the charge. It’s a good idea to seek legal counsel before arraignment so you can decide how you will plea. Most people facing DUI charges are advised to plead not guilty during arraignment unless your DUI attorney has secured a plea bargain. If you plead not guilty, a date for the Pretrial Hearing will be set about 90 days from the arraignment date.
Soon after your arrest, you will be notified that your driver’s license will be suspended for 30 days. Suspension is automatic unless you request a DMV hearing within 10 days. Requesting this hearing delays license suspension until the outcome of our hearing.
If you plead not guilty in court, your case will proceed before a jury. Your attorney will work on your behalf to gather evidence, build your case, and attempt to secure a plea bargain or reduced charges on your behalf. This process may last for weeks or several months in an attempt to get your charges reduced or dismissed. Most DUI charges are settled before they go to trial.
If your case proceeds to trial, a jury will be selected. You will only be convicted of a DUI if all 12 jurors are convinced of your guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Contact a Los Angeles DUI Defense Attorney
A DUI conviction can affect your life in many ways and potentially lead to jail time. If you are facing a DUI charge, it’s important to seek legal counsel as soon as possible to begin building your defense and protecting your rights. Contact Soliman Law Group for a free consultation with an experienced DUI attorney in Los Angeles to discuss your case.