California DUI Law
California has stringent driving under the influence (DUI) laws that are vigorously and aggressively enforced by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and local law enforcement agencies such as county sheriff's departments and municipal police departments.
In any DUI case involving alcohol, there will be two charges filed. One is California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) and the other is California Vehicle Code Section 23152(b).
California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a)
This code states that it is unlawful to operate a motor vehicle while impaired due to being under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both. Prosecutors will attempt to substantiate this charge by way of the reported driving pattern and other supposedly objective signs and symptoms of intoxication that will be included in the officer's report. These "symptoms" generally include the odor of an alcoholic beverage on the driver's breath and person, bloodshot watery eyes, unsteady gait, alleged poor performance on "field sobriety tests" administered at the scene, and the driver's general appearance and demeanor.
California Vehicle Code Section 23152(b)
This code states that it is unlawful to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher in one's system. Prosecutors will attempt to substantiate this charge by way of chemical test results. Such tests include breath tests, blood tests, and sometimes urine tests. For more information on this topic, please see our Chemical Test and Chemical Test Choices pages on this website.
In DUI cases in which only drugs are involved and not alcohol, the driver will only be charged with California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a), also known as the "a" count.
The Stop: Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause?
Police officers are required to have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to enforce a traffic stop of a motorist for suspicion of driving under the influence. Probable cause is established when the officer makes an observation that leads him or her to believe that a crime is being committed or is about to be committed.
Often, probable cause for a DUI traffic stop manifests itself when an officer observes a person committing minor vehicle code violations such as driving erratically, speeding, weaving in and out of lanes, running a red light or stop sign, not proceeding through an intersection after the traffic light turns green, driving at night without headlights on, etc. Sometimes the probable cause leading to contact with law enforcement that results in a DUI arrest manifests itself in a more serious way, such as traffic collisions. Needless to say, these different types of driving behaviors can be caused by other factors aside from drunk driving and a police officer pulling a driver over can make the incorrect assumption that they are driving under the influence. For more information on this topic please see our Illegal Search and Seizure page on this website.
The Arrest: Probable Cause?
During a DUI stop, the officer may attempt to establish probable cause to make the arrest by way of the factors described above under California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a); i.e., the odor of an alcoholic beverage on the driver's breath and person, blood shot watery eyes, unsteady gait, alleged poor performance on "field sobriety tests" administered at the scene, and the driver's general appearance and demeanor.
"Field sobriety tests" consist of balance and coordination tests that generally cannot be successfully performed by sober drivers as well as a breath test administered at the scene by way of a handheld breath test device known as a Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) device. The PAS test should not be confused with actual chemical tests which include blood tests administered at hospital, breath tests performed at the police station, and sometimes urine tests.
California DUI Punishments and Penalties
Depending on the facts and circumstances of the individual case, California DUI convictions carry a wide variety of punishments and penalties and can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies. Factors that can increase the penalties associated with a DUI conviction include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Chemical Test Refusals
- Prior DUI Convictions
- BAC of .15% or Higher
- Property Damage
- Having a Child in the Vehicle at the Time of the Offense
- Traffic Collisions
- Bodily Injuries and Death Caused as a Result of Driving While Under the Influence
If someone other than the driver is killed, a motorist can face gross vehicular manslaughter charges in addition to felony drunk driving charges.
Penalties for a DUI conviction can include driver's license suspension or revocation, jail time, prison time, probation, parole, fines, court fees, mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device in the driver's vehicle, participation in court ordered alcohol classes, participation in a Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) program, spending time at a hospital and morgue facility, community service, and community labor.
California DUI Case Evaluation and the Evidence Discovery Process
Depending on the circumstances of a driver's California DUI arrest, he or she may face serious penalties that can adversely affect employment, personal relationships, finances, and more. Although being arrested for drunk driving can be intimidating and confusing, it is important for motorists to remember that they have legitimate legal rights.
At The Law Offices of Daniel E. Kann, our experienced attorneys will carefully evaluate your case and determine the weaknesses in the prosecutor's case against you and the strengths of the affirmative defenses that you have. Some of these defenses may include whether or not you were lawfully stopped by law enforcement, whether or not the chemical test used to ascertain the amount of alcohol or drugs in your system was administered in compliance with California law, and whether or not the chemical test device used was maintained and calibrated in compliance with California law.
In all cases, making these determinations will require your drunk driving defense attorney to aggressively demand that various items and documentation be handed over to the attorney by the arresting law enforcement agency and prosecutor's office that are not included in the initial discovery packet that is typically provided to the defense attorney in court. It takes an experienced attorney to be able to make a determination as to what discovery items must be demanded, given the circumstances of your particular case.
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DUI Defense Experience for Successful Case Outcomes
Drunk driving laws in California are complex. DUI and criminal defense lawyer Daniel E. Kann is committed to defending his clients' rights. He has been defending the rights of those facing drunk driving charges for years, giving his clients the benefit of his experience and knowledge to help secure the best possible outcome. For more information about your legal rights and options, please call today for a free, comprehensive, and confidential consultation.