Los Angeles DUI Lawyers
Defending Clients Charged With Driving Under The Influence in California
When facing a charge for driving under the influence (DUI), it can feel like your world is caving in. That’s understandable given the potential sanctions, but the good news is this–there are more DUI defense strategies available in California than most people realize.
Have you been charged with a DUI? Call Shevin Law Group today at (818) 918-5838 or contact us online to schedule a meeting with our DUI lawyer in Los Angeles!
What are the Penalties for a DUI in California?
The California Vehicle Code identifies a .08 blood alcohol content (BAC) as the legal demarcation point for when a driver is intoxicated. The penalties typically depend on whether the driver has previous DUI convictions and, if so, how many. Other sentencing factors include whether someone else was injured due to someone operating under the influence. Taking all of this into account will determine whether a DUI will be a misdemeanor or felony charge.
First-Time DUI Offense
California judges have several sentencing tools at their disposal. A first-time offender will get a minimum of a $390 fine and three months in a Driving Under the Influence program called “DUI school.” Jail time is possible, even on a first offense where no one was injured. So is having a driver’s license suspended.
The state of California can also employ an Ignition Interlock requirement. This is essentially a breathalyzer that’s built into your car. The technology requires the driver to pass the breathalyzer test before being able to start their vehicle. Ignition Interlock can be used as an alternative to a license suspension.
Assuming no one was injured due to driving under the influence, the first three offenses will likely be charged as misdemeanors. But even allowing this, the first DUI conviction in California can still result in up to six months in county jail. To avoid having a driver’s license suspension, the individual would have to agree to four months of driving with an Ignition Interlock. That means the added expense of having this technology installed in your car and the monthly fee that comes with it. DUI school could be mandated for up to nine months.
Second DUI Offense
Sentences for second and third offenses can gradually escalate across the board. The person convicted of a second DUI faces a minimum of four days in jail, with the maximum now up to a year. Their driver’s license will be suspended for at least six months, and only agreeing to install an Ignition Interlock will prevent the suspension from lasting a year. A DUI school term can now last up to 30 months.
Third DUI Offense
The third offense can include, among other penalties, two years in jail and a license suspended for two years, with Ignition Interlock required for the third year. If any of these first three offenses resulted in an injury, there would be at least a few days of jail time and restitution to the injured party. Sentencing is also more likely to be on the high end of judges' discretionary window.
When is a DUI a Felony in California?
By the time we get to the fourth offense, we’re into felony territory. Now, the convicted person is looking at a minimum of 16 months in prison and potentially 16 years.
In California, there are three other types of DUI felonies that can be charged, such as:
- DUI with Child Endangerment - A felony charge is brought when the offender injuries or kills the child passenger under 14 years old, which carries a prison sentence of two to six years in state prison and/or fines of up to $10,000.
- DUI with Injury - The offender has caused an injury due to their intoxication, and they face imprisonment for two to four years in state prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
- Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated - The offender has caused a death due to their intoxication, which carries a sentence of four to 10 years in state prison and/or fines of up to $10,000.
In all cases involving DUI felonies in California, the court may order the offender to attend alcohol education classes or participate in community service programs. Additionally, the court may require a length of probation and/or suspension of the driver's license. If you are facing a DUI felony charge in California, it is critical that you seek legal advice right away as these charges carry serious penalties. An attorney can help guide you through the process and provide the advice and representation needed to protect your rights.
All of this is to say that if there’s any way out of a DUI charge, your attorney needs to help you find it. And there are several angles from which to undermine the prosecution’s case. The legal authorities are obligated to respect everyone’s constitutional rights and follow a very reasonable procedure to ensure they do. That starts from the moment the police officer pulls you over.
Contact Shevin Law Group today to discuss your case with our Los Angeles DUI defense attorney!
Reasonable Suspicion & Probable Cause
There must be reasonable suspicion in the officer’s mind before they can put on the flashing red lights and come up behind you. Let’s say you’re driving home from a summer barbeque. It’s late afternoon. You’re driving safely. It’s on a lonely road, and a police officer with little else to do decides to pull you over. They smell some beer on your breath and make you go through the tests. Your BAC is .10. They’ve got you now, right?
Maybe not. What was the basis for pulling you over in the first place? It would be one thing if you had just left a bar parking lot at 2 AM. A reasonable person would be suspicious of intoxication. The same goes for sobriety checkpoints–the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that these random stops are legal. For that matter, even if you committed a traffic violation–even a minor one, like rolling through the stop sign at a four-way stop–, then reasonable suspicion can be invoked.
But our hypothetical scenario here presumes none of that. You’re driving at a normal time of the day. The road you’re on is not a designated checkpoint, and you’ve obeyed all traffic laws. If reasonable suspicion does not exist, no stop can be made–and any evidence gathered at that stop is inadmissible in court. Probable cause is associated with reasonable suspicion, but it is legally different and refers to a separate part of the process. Probable cause is what happens after the stop is made. Let’s go back to our scenario; this time, let’s presume that you hurried through that four-way stop near your home a little too quickly. The officer is on solid ground in pulling you over.
Let’s presume you had a breath mint before leaving the barbeque. You can’t smell alcohol on your breath. You’re not acting drunk. There are no containers in the vehicle. There is absolutely nothing that suggests you’ve even had a single drink. Probable cause–an essential precondition to making you go through the sobriety field tests–is not yet established. The officer could establish probable cause by asking if you’ve been drinking and getting an affirmative response. It’s not a challenging hurdle for a police officer to clear. But until that happens, any evidence gathered from the sobriety tests is inadmissible in court–which means the prosecution has no case.
Will the Sobriety Tests Hold Up?
Let's assume that reasonable suspicion and probable cause were in effect, and you did indeed blow a .10 BAC. Now, your goose is cooked, legally speaking, right? Again, not so fast.
We'll start with the breathalyzer device itself. Some protocols must be followed for how this equipment is maintained and managed. This is no mere technicality–a properly calibrated breathalyzer will not be accurate. And in our scenario, you're barely over the legal limit as it is. This is a legitimate way to raise reasonable doubt in the court's mind.
Furthermore, breathalyzers could be better. Several medical and dietary factors can influence the BAC level that is recorded. For example, a breathalyzer may not accurately record the BAC level of someone with diabetes, liver problems, or acid reflux. Eating bread is something else that can influence the breathalyzer in a way that hurts the defendant. So, let's say that you were at the barbeque. You usually watch your reflux pretty carefully, but it's a nice day; you're with friends and want to relax. You drink a couple of bottles of Corona and eat two sandwiches–the kind that uses really big buns.
Does this seem unusual? It isn't. And yet this could create the perfect storm for someone to blow a BAC level that shows them legally intoxicated when, in fact, they are not. Even a blood test has its own set of challenges for the authorities. There is a particular chain of custody requirement in a blood sample. When these are violated, the evidence can be thrown out. Again, this is no mere technicality. The requirements are in place because violating them might cause the blood to ferment, so the BAC reading will be inaccurate.
Contact Our DUI Defense Attorney Today
A DUI is a serious charge, and that means everyone charged with it deserves a serious defense–the kind of defense that digs into the details of the case and asks the defendant questions they wouldn’t think to ask themselves. Shevin Law Group has been doing that for our clients for nearly thirty years.
Contact Shevin Law Group today to schedule an initial consultation with our DUI defense lawyer in Los Angeles!
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