San Diego DUI Defense Attorneys Defending Clients Against Drunk Driving Charges
It’s not illegal to enjoy a drink or two after work on a night out with friends, but if you choose to drive when you’re impaired, you could face criminal charges for driving under the influence. In some cases, you may not be aware that you are impaired or are driving in an unsafe manner, but if you get pulled over, everything can change quickly. Here’s what you need to know about drunk driving charges and why you need a criminal defense lawyer.
If you’ve been charged with driving under the influence, call our criminal defense firm today. Our team is here to help you understand your charges and the potential consequences, and we work hard to ensure that every defense option is explored. A DUI attorney can walk you through what comes next and help you protect your future.
How Does California Define Driving Under the Influence?
In the state of California, driving under the influence means that you are operating a motor vehicle while being impaired by alcohol, marijuana, or other substances. If you are 21 years old or older, a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher is grounds for a DUI. If you are under the age of 21 or you are currently on DUI probation, a blood alcohol level of 0.01% or higher can result in DUI charges. Being under the influence of any drugs — prescription or illegal — that impair your ability to drive safely can result in a DUI.
It’s very important to understand that DUI charges do not have to be based solely on your blood alcohol level. If an officer has reason to believe that your driving is impaired, they can charge you with a DUI even if your blood alcohol level is within the legal limit. The officer will generally make this determination by observing your driving before they pull you over. Once that traffic stop is underway, the officer will listen to your speech and pay attention to your behavior and how you answer questions. They may also ask you to submit to a field sobriety test. If any of these indicate that you are not able to safely operate a vehicle, you can be charged with DUI.
What Grounds Do the Police Need to Pull Me Over?
In California, an officer needs to have reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred or is occurring to be able to legally pull him over. What counts as reasonable suspicion can be a bit subjective, but in general, an officer needs to have some specific information that there is a probability of a crime. This can include minor traffic violations, which is often where officers are able to get grounds to stop someone and then end up finding evidence to charge them with DUI.
Consider this example. You make a right-hand turn, but instead of turning into the farthest right-hand lane, you turn into the left lane. An officer sees you and pulls you over to conduct a traffic stop because, legally, you must make a right-hand turn into the farthest right-hand lane. When they approach the car, they smell alcohol and see an open beer can in the middle console. As they question you, they notice that you are slurring your words a bit or are slow to respond to questions. If they believe you are impaired, they can arrest you on a DUI charge and administer a Breathalyzer test.
This is just one example of how a simple traffic stop can result in a DUI case, but it’s an important illustration because it shows where a DUI attorney can start to build their case. In the above example, if you made the turn properly and the officer pulled you over, that would be an improper stop, and it could negate the entire DUI charge.
Do I Have to Take a Breathalyzer or Field Sobriety Test?
DUI cases often hinge on the results of a Breathalyzer or field sobriety test performed at the time of the stop, so it’s important to understand your rights surrounding these tests. In California, you are not required to submit to a Breathalyzer or a field sobriety test unless you are under arrest for DUI or are currently on probation for DUI. If the officer is merely requesting that you take one, you can refuse and ask if you are free to leave.
However, if the officer has already arrested you for drunk driving and asks that you take a Breathalyzer or blood alcohol test, you are required to submit to that testing. If you refuse to take the test or provide a blood sample, your license will be suspended for a year. You will also be required to pay a $125 fine. If you have refused a Breathalyzer after a DUI arrest before, how long your driving privileges are suspended is extended by one year for every additional refusal.
What Is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and Felony DUI?
In California, DUI charges are generally misdemeanor offenses. The main difference between a misdemeanor and a felony charge is the amount of jail time. A misdemeanor offense is punishable by less than 1 year in jail, while a felony charge is anything over 1 year. DUI cases can be prosecuted as felonies under a few different circumstances. If you have had multiple offenses, subsequent charges can be prosecuted at the felony level. This happens if you have had more than three DUI charges in less than 10 years. A DUI can also be an automatic felony if you’ve already had a felony charge. The other way a DUI can be a felony is if you killed someone or caused serious bodily injury as a result of driving under the influence.
When reviewing your case, a DUI lawyer will look at the entire circumstances, including whether the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony, and use this information to decide on a defense strategy. In cases where you are facing a felony DUI, a criminal defense attorney may try to get the charge lowered to avoid harsher penalties.
What Are the Possible Consequences If I’m Convicted?
If you get a DUI conviction, you could face jail time, fines, and license suspension. A first-offense DUI for someone at least 21 years older can result in having their license suspended for up to 4 months. Subsequence offenses or offenses involving a driver under the age of 21 can result in a 1-year suspension. The potential fine for a DUI charge is $390 to $1,000, and you could also end up paying other penalties and fees.
If this is your first DUI offense and it is being charged as a misdemeanor, you will likely be sentenced to probation — especially if you are working with a DUI attorney. However, it is legally possible to be sentenced to up to 6 months in jail for a first offense. If it’s a second offense, you can be sentenced to up to 1 year in jail on misdemeanor charges.
If you were convicted of a felony DUI, you could face up to 4 years in prison. However, it’s important to note that this is only for the DUI conviction. Felony DUIs can involve other charges, such as vehicular manslaughter or even second-degree murder if death occurred, and these charges can carry lengthy prison sentences.
What Do I Need to Know About Working With a DUI Attorney?
When you’ve been arrested for a DUI offense, your first call should always be to a DUI attorney. A criminal defense attorney who works with clients charged with driving under the influence can evaluate your case and the evidence against you and provide information on each of your defense options. If you haven’t worked with an attorney before, you may not know what to expect. The first time you meet with your attorney, they will talk with you about your case. They will ask what happened and what you’ve done or told the police so far. In general, it’s best to avoid answering questions until your attorney is present because you may end up inadvertently giving the investigators more evidence against you with your statement.
Your attorney will be there with you when you are arraigned and will try to get you released on your own recognizance or have bail granted so that you can be out of custody while you wait for the case to progress. In some situations, your attorney may attempt to work out a plea deal with the prosecution or argue that the charges should be dismissed entirely. Your attorney will be in communication with you throughout your case so that you know what is going on and are able to participate in the decisions made for your defense.
When you’re facing serious charges, you need a DUI attorney who has experience with these types of cases and knows what it takes to win. If you’re in the San Diego area, call our law firm at 619-432-3712 to find out how we can help you. We offer our clients a free consultation so you can understand how we would proceed with your case and ensure our firm is a good fit.