Each year, countless California drivers are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, or DUI. Unfortunately, if you are one of these individuals, you face a number of severe criminal penalties if you are convicted of the offense. In fact, with the state’s tough sentencing guidelines, California DUI penalties are some of the strictest in the nation.
Like every other state, it is against the law to operate a motor vehicle on California roads if you have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. As a result, any person caught driving with a BAC above this percentage is considered legally impaired—regardless of his or her ability to drive. However, state law also prohibits underage motorists (those under 21) from driving with any amount of alcohol in their system at all (a BAC above 0.00%), while commercial drivers are deemed impaired with a BAC of 0.04% or higher.
It is important to know that, due to the state’s Implied Consent Law, you can also be arrested for DUI if you refuse to submit a breath, blood, or urine sample to a law enforcement officer so that he or she can determine your exact BAC—a process known as chemical testing. If you do not submit to these tests, you can expect to be arrested for driving under the influence.
Regardless of the reason for your arrest, a drunk driving conviction carries a number of penalties, including a fine, license suspension, and jail sentence. Assuming it’s your first offense, the court may impose a fine ranging from $390 to $1,000, as well as suspend your driver’s license for up to four months. Depending on the circumstances, you may also have to spend anywhere from four days to six months behind bars, attend DUI school, perform community service, and/or have a vehicle ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle (a mechanism that requires you to perform a breathalyzer each time you attempt to start your automobile).
If you think the penalties for a first-time DUI offender are tough, consider this: if you have a prior conviction on your record, a second offense carries up to a one-year jail sentence, $1,000 fine, one-year license suspension, and three to five years of probation—and these penalties only increase with each subsequent DUI conviction. You can also expect harsher punishment if you had an extremely high BAC (above 0.15%), were traveling with a passenger under the age of 14, or were driving 20 miles or more above the speed limit at the time of your arrest.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to challenge a drunk driving arrest. If the officer who stopped you lacked probable cause for pulling you over, for example, your charges may be dismissed. You may even be able to challenge your chemical test results if you suffer from acid reflux disease or used breath mints, mouthwash, or gum shortly before the test was administered.
Felony DUI in California
Although most California DUI cases get charged as misdemeanors–involving fines, DUI school and sometimes a short jail sentence–in certain instances prosecutors can charge a California felony DUI.
The consequences for a person convicted of felony DUI are significantly more serious. First, a misdemeanor DUI carries only a maximum sentence of six months to a year of county jail–though most offenders do little or no jail time. By contrast, a felony DUI can land a person in California state prison for 3 years of longer. Second, a felony DUI conviction resulting in probation will require felony probation and formal supervision by a probation officer.
Prosecutors may charge felony DUI in only three instances. First, a California DUI causing injury or death may be filed as a felony (or in more serious death cases, vehicular manslaughter). Second, a Fourth Time DUI may be charged as a felony. Finally, if a person has a prior felony DUI conviction for any reason, any subsequent DUI charge may be filed as a felony.
Like with all criminal cases, felony DUI often gets plea-bargained down. A prosecutor may start a case by filing the charge as a felony. But after recognizing weaknesses in the evidence, and negotiating with defense counsel, he/she often will agree to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor in exchange for a guilty or “no contest” plea.
California Vehicular Manslaughter Laws
A person has a few drinks with dinner and gets in a crash on the way home. Tragically, someone is injured or killed.
The CHP rushes to the conclusion that the party who had been drinking must be at fault. The DA responds by charging very serious crimes: DUI with injury, vehicular manslaughter, sometimes even murder.
If you or a loved one faces this situation, you came to the right place for help. Our criminal defense lawyers are former DUI enforcement officers and former DUI prosecutors. We know firsthand how cops and District Attorneys put vehicular manslaughter cases together. We know how to fight these cases effectively.
The evidence is rarely cut and dry. Often times the accused had been drinking, but really wasn’t “drunk” or too impaired to drive. Often times the other driver, or road conditions or weather or external factors are really to blame for the accident. In building defenses like these, we work with some of the leading toxicologists and accident reconstructionists in the country.
With the case properly defended, it may be possible to get the charges reduced or even dismissed…and to avoid jail or prison.
Child Endangerment – A California DUI Penalty Enhancement
Last Thursday in New York, 41 year-old Melonie Lender, a middle school assistant principal, was arrested for DUI. Not only was it 6:40 in the morning, but she was on her way to work and had her 10-month old son in the backseat. In addition, Lender reportedly has two prior alcohol-related driving convictions.
In California, if you are caught driving under the influence and have a child under the age of 14 in your car, you will likely be charged with Penal Code 273 (a) child endangerment in addition to the underlying DUI.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding your California DUI arrest, such as your driving pattern, whether you were involved in an accident, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC), and your prior criminal history, you may face up to one year in the county jail or up to six years in the California State Prison…and you could also potentially lose custody of your child(ren). Keep in mind these are just the penalties for the child endangerment charge. In addition to these penalties, you still face sentencing for your DUI.
Lender, like so many others, has an alcohol addiction, or at least an alcohol problem, which is revealed by her actions. If any of her conduct sounds all too familiar…or like the life of someone you care about…know that help is available.
Please choose the county where your DUI in California took place:
San Luis Obispo