The law surrounding California DUI’s is so expansive and complicated that sometimes it’s worth wild to take a step back and just talk about the basics of a California DUI.
In California, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher. It is also illegal to drive while under the influence. While every person is different, with a different metabolism and different tolerances, a mere two drinks in an hour can certainly get a driver to a 0.08 percent. Additionally, person is “under the influence” if they cannot operate a vehicle as a reasonable and sober person would have under similar circumstances.
Now, let’s be very clear. A person does not have to be above a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more to be charged with a California DUI if they were under the influence. Similarly, a person does not have to be under the influence to be charged with a California DUI if they have a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more. Having said that, most people who are caught driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher will be charged with both under California Vehicle Code section 23152(a) and section 23152(b) respectively. Yes, you read that correct. Most people who get a DUI are actually looking at two separate charges.
For example, John is heavy in weight and is an alcoholic. If John drinks four beers in an hour, he may likely have a blood alcohol content of above a 0.08 percent, but he’ll probably not be “under the influence” because he can function as though he were sober. He will still be arrested, charged, and may be convicted of driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more under Vehicle Code section 23152(b).
On the other hand, for example, Jane is underweight and very rarely drinks. If she were to have one glass of wine, she may not be above a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more, but she may certainly not be able to function as a sober person would. As such, while she cannot be charged with having a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher, she may very well be arrested and charged with driving under the influence under Vehicle Code section 23152(a).
Whether a person is a 0.08 percent or higher, or if they are under the influence, officers have no knowledge of either when they decide to pull someone over. They might suspect that a person is under the influence based on observed driving patterns, but that alone is not enough to arrest a person. An officer must have probable cause to arrest a driver for a DUI. An officer has probable cause when they have trustworthy facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the driver was either a 0.08 percent or higher, or that they were driving under the influence.
The key is that the officer must have facts that the driver is DUI before they can make the arrest. The officer can obtain the facts to meet the probable cause standard through observation of driving patterns, statements made by the drive (ex. “I had a few beers with dinner”), smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath, bloodshot and watery eyes, slurred speech, poor performance on field sobriety tests, and failure of a roadside breathalyzer.
Just because these may be what an officer uses to justify a DUI arrest, there are things that drivers can do to limit the amount of “facts” that they give the officer.
Drivers do not need to talk to the officers, nor should they. The 5th Amendment exists for a reason. Use it. Rather than potentially providing incriminating statements and allowing the officer to smell the driver’s breath, the driver should simply invoke his or her 5th Amendment right to remain silent, request their attorney, and then keep their mouth shut.
Drivers do not need to perform the field sobriety tests, nor should they. The officer might threaten arrest if the driver does not perform them, but the driver has that right. Chances are that the officer has already made up his or her mind to arrest the driver. However, by not performing the field sobriety tests, the driver has prevented the officer from obtaining any facts that the driver is impaired.
Lastly, drivers do not need to perform the roadside breathalyzer, nor should they. This test, referred to as a preliminary alcohol screening test or “PAS” test, is optional. That is not to say that a driver will not have to perform any test.
Once a person has been lawfully arrested for a DUI, meaning the officer does have the requisite probable cause to make the arrest, the driver must submit to either a breath test or a blood test under California law. Not doing so can lead to increased penalties with both the court as well as the California DMV.
Speaking of the California DMV, when a person is caught driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more, it triggers an action by the DMV to determine whether the driver’s license should be suspended. The driver or their attorney must contact the DMV within 10 days to request a hearing and stop the automatic suspension of the driver’s license. If the hearing is lost, then the person’s license will be suspended, the time of which will be dependent upon prior DUI’s and whether the driver refused the required breath or blood test. If the hearing is won, albeit unlikely, the driver’s driving privileges are saved…for now.
After the arrest, the driver must challenge the DUI in court. If convicted, the driver faces some serious consequences. For a first time DUI, the driver is facing a minimum of $390 in fines, which will increase to about $2,000 after court fees are included, three years of informal probation, a three-month DUI course, additional license suspension time, and a DUI on their criminal record. Now, these are minimums. A driver could face a whole host of other penalties including jail of up to six months.
Since this post is about the basics, I won’t get into the penalties for a second or more DUI, or other penalties for various DUI scenarios.
Needless to say, even the basics are extremely complicated. A driver absolutely should not try to tackle a DUI case on their own. They should hire an experienced California DUI attorney who has studied California DUI law and who practices it day in and day out. Simply put, having a California DUI attorney can be the difference between going to jail and not.