20 Little-Known Facts About Drunk Driving Arrests in California
Drivers in California understand that it is against the law to drive a vehicle when they are drunk or using drugs. However, there are many little-known facts about drunk driving in California that many people do not know.
Below are 20 facts about DUIs in California. If you have been arrested for DUI, schedule a free consultation with a California DUI defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case.
1. DWI and DUI Mean the Same Thing Under California Law
States refer to drunk driving with different acronyms. “DUI” stands for driving under the influence, whereas “DWI” stands for driving while intoxicated. Another term used less frequently is “OVI” for operating a vehicle under the influence.
California’s primary impaired driving statute is California Vehicle Code §23152. It refers to the crime of operating a vehicle “under the influence.” Although most people understand the meaning of the acronym, nowhere in California law does it refer to DWI. Instead, DUI refers to any act of driving a motor vehicle while being impaired by alcohol and/or drugs in your system.
2. Expunging a DUI Conviction Does Not Remove the DUI from Your Driving Record
Most misdemeanor DUIs are eligible for expungement. Under the new California Clean Slate Act, most misdemeanor DUI convictions will automatically be expunged when the offense is eligible for DUI expungement. The new law also provides for sealing DUI records. People with DUI convictions before January 1, 2021 can still file a petition for expungement with the court.
Even if you expunge your DUI records and the records are sealed under the new law, the DUI remains on your driving record for ten years with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
DUIs and wet reckless charges are offenses that can count as “priors.” Therefore, each new DUI conviction within 10 years increases the severity of the DUI penalties. Expunged DUIs count as “prior” offenses as well.
3. You Can Get Fired for a First DUI Offense in California
Unfortunately, yes – an employer can fire you for an impaired driving conviction. Whether your employer decides to fire you after a DUI depends on several factors, including the type of job you have, whether you hold a professional license, and the circumstances of the DUI. It is not considered discrimination to consider a person’s criminal record when making hiring or firing decisions.
A DUI could end the career of a commercial driver. Truck drivers have very strict rules about impaired driving. Also, the suspension of driving privileges for DUI convictions is stricter for individuals with a commercial driver’s license.
4. Police Departments Must Tell the Public Before They Hold a DUI Sobriety Checkpoint
The United States Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court have ruled that DUI sobriety checkpoints do not violate a person’s Fourth Amendment rights. However, the California Supreme Court provided eight requirements that law enforcement officers must follow when utilizing a sobriety checkpoint in the 1987 case of Ingersoll v. Palmer.
In that case, the justices ruled that checkpoints must be advertised in advance. In other words, the police department must advise the public when and where they intend to operate a DUI checkpoint. Moreover, the advance notice must be reasonable.
Most police departments publish the notice on their social media websites. They might also put the notice in local newspapers and announce it on local newscasts.
It is important to note that failing to advertise a DUI checkpoint does not by itself make the checkpoint unlawful or unconstitutional.
5. Your Driver’s License Could Be Suspended Even if the DUI Charges Are Dropped or You Are Not Guilty
When an officer arrests you for drinking and driving, they will give you a Notice of License Suspension. The Notice explains that you have 10 days to request a DMV hearing. This hearing determines whether your driver’s license is suspended and for how long. The DMV administratively suspends your driving privileges if you do not request a hearing within 10 days.
If your BAC is above the legal limit in the California Vehicle Code and you are over 21 years old, the license suspension for a first DUI offense is four months. A second DUI within 10 years results in a one-year suspension.
The DMV suspension stands regardless of the outcome of your criminal case. Underage drivers with a BAC of more than .01% have their driving privileges suspended for one year.
6. Drunk Drivers Are Not Required to Take Field Sobriety Tests According to California DUI Laws
You are not required to take the field sobriety tests (“FSTs”) when you are stopped for impaired driving. The officer generally does not tell you that you do not have to take the test. Instead, the officer merely asks you to take the FSTs.
There are three standardized field sobriety tests:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (“HGN”);
- Walk And Turn Test (“WAT”); and
- One-Leg Stand Test (“OLS”).
The accuracy and reliability of these tests are the subject of much debate. Even though there are strict guidelines for giving these tests, police officers may not follow the procedures exactly, which could lead to inaccurate results.
Furthermore, a person’s age, health, medical conditions, and environmental factors could result in “failing” the test even if you are not impaired by an alcoholic beverage or drugs.
7. Most Drunk Drivers Are Not Required to Take a Preliminary Alcohol Screening (“PAS”) Test
In the state of California, if you are over 21 years old and not on DUI probation, you can refuse a PAS test during a DUI stop without penalty. The PAS test is generally a handheld breathalyzer test. However, underage drivers (drivers under 21 years old) and drivers on probation must take the PAS test or face driver’s license suspension for a test refusal.
8. You Are Required to Take a Chemical Test After a Lawful DUI Arrest According to California Law
California’s implied consent laws require that all drivers submit to chemical tests for blood alcohol content (“BAC”) levels after a lawful arrest. Law enforcement officers should give you a choice between a breath test and a blood test. Urine tests are only used if you cannot provide either a breath or blood sample, or if the tests cannot be performed.
Refusing a chemical test after a DUI arrest can result in an administrative license suspension (“ALS”) for one year for a first refusal. A second refusal within 10 years results in a two-year license revocation. As with the suspension for having a BAC above the legal limit, a suspended or revoked license for chemical test refusal stands regardless of the outcome of your DUI case.
9. A Breathalyzer Does Not Measure the BAC in Your Blood
A breathalyzer uses a mathematical calculation to convert the amount of alcohol on your breath to an equivalent BAC level. However, this conversion might not be accurate because of individual differences and other factors. A skilled California DUI lawyer will challenge the results of a breathalyzer for this reason and other reasons.
10. Legally Prescribed Medications and Over-the-Counter Drugs Can Result in Being Arrested for DUI
California DUI law states that it is unlawful to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of any drug. “Under the influence” means that a substance in your system impairs your driving abilities. Impairment is measured by the level of care reasonably prudent people use when driving motor vehicles.
Many prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications have side effects that mimic signs of intoxication. As a result, a police officer might determine you are impaired and arrest you for DUI even though you have not consumed any alcohol or illegal drugs.
11. You Can Be Arrested for Operating a Boat Under the Influence (Boating DUI or BUI)
Many people do not realize that boating under the influence of drinks or drugs is also against the law in California. The Harbors and Navigation Code §655 states that no one shall operate any vessel, water skis, aquaplane, or other similar devices while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
The legal limit for blood alcohol content (“BAC”) when operating any recreational vessel, aquaplane, water skis, or similar device is .08%. The legal limit for operating any vessel other than a recreational vessel is .04%. Although they may not be commonly thought of as a motor vehicle, boats are still motor vehicles. Thus, they are illegal to operate under the influence.
The penalties for BUI will depend on the charge, but they are similar to the penalties for impaired driving. You could lose your driver’s license and face county jail time for driving a boat while under the influence.
12. An Out-of-State DUI Conviction Could Count Against You in California
The more DUI convictions you have on your record, the harsher the DUI sentence will be for a current conviction. The prosecutor counts misdemeanor DUIs, felony DUIs, and wet reckless convictions on your record when deciding how to charge you for a current DUI offense.
California DUI laws permit an out-of-state DUI conviction to count as a prior offense if the out-of-state DUI charge is substantially similar to California DUI law. However, impaired driving laws vary by state. They even vary by county here in California. Therefore, your California DUI defense attorney may challenge an out-of-state conviction because the other state’s DUI laws may not be “substantially similar” to the California laws applied to your case.
California shares information with other states through the Interstate Driver’s License Compact (“IDLC”). Therefore, if you have criminal charges or DUI convictions against you, California prosecutors can find them.
13. Some DUIs Can Be Misdemeanors
Typically, prosecutors charge a person with a misdemeanor DUI if the following situations apply:
- You do not have any felony DUI convictions on your record;
- You were not involved in a DUI accident which caused serious injuries or death to another person;
- You do not have three or more DUIs on your record within the past 10 years; or
- There are no aggravating factors that would raise the offense to a felony.
Depending on the county in which you are charged, you might be able to avoid jail time for a first-time DUI conviction. However, it is important to note that some factors can result in minimum county jail time, even though you are charged with a misdemeanor offense.
14. There Are Aggravating Factors for Impaired Driving Charges That Can Increase Your Penalties
Several circumstances can enhance a drinking and driving offense and sentence. Prosecutors use aggravating factors to determine whether to charge you with a felony or misdemeanor and what sentence to recommend to the court for a plea bargain.
Aggravating circumstances for DUI include:
- Driving with a BAC of .015% or higher;
- Causing a fatality while driving under the influence;
- Traveling at excess speeds while intoxicated;
- Causing an injury while driving under the influence;
- Having a child under the age of 14 years in the vehicle (you can also be charged with child endangerment under the California Penal Code in this situation);
- Refusing a chemical test after a lawful arrest; and
- Driving with any alcohol in your system if you are under the age of 21.
Some of the above aggravating factors result in an enhanced DUI sentence, including mandatory jail time. For example, having a child in the vehicle automatically adds 48 hours to your jail sentence for a first offense. You must serve the time, even if the judge does not order any additional jail time for the impaired driving conviction.
15. Police Misconduct or Errors May Result in a Dismissal of Charges or Suppression of Evidence
A police officer must have reasonable suspicion to make a traffic stop and probate cause for an arrest. If the court determines the officer lacked either of these, the judge could dismiss the case.
Additionally, if the officer violated your legal rights, your DUI attorneys can file a Motion to Suppress evidence. The judge can make all evidence collected from an illegal search, seizure, or arrest inadmissible in court. Without that evidence, the prosecution might be forced to drop the DUI charges against you.
16. Almost 200,000 People Are Arrested Each Year in California for DUIs
The 2019 Annual Report of the California DUI Management Information System shows an average of 171,481 arrests for driving under the influence each year from 2007 through 2017. DUI conviction rates averaged about 75% each year.
17. Penalties for a First-Time DUI Conviction Can Be Steep
If this is your first DUI and there are no aggravating circumstances, you can expect a sentence of:
- Two days in jail or community service;
- Three to nine months of DUI school;
- Fines between $390 and $1,000 (costs of assessments are added to the fine, which can increase the total cost);
- Three to five years of summary probation;
- Loss of driving privileges for six months (most people qualify for a restricted driver’s license); and/or
- Possible installation of an ignition interlock device (“IID”) for up to five months.
Your sentence may also include attending a DUI program, such as MADD’s Victim Impact Panel and the Hospital and Morgue Program. The punishment for intoxicated driving varies by county.
Some counties impose tougher penalties for a first-time DUI, including mandatory jail time for a first-time DUI conviction.
18. A California DUI Could Cost You Over $10,000
The cost of a DUI depends on many factors. However, a first DUI charge could cost you between $10,000 and $16,000 if you fight the DUI charges.
That figure includes, but is not limited to:
- DUI defense attorneys;
- Fines, court fees, and assessments;
- Towing and storage fees;
- Bail or bond amount;
- Driver’s license reinstatement fee;
- Cost of ignition interlock device (“IID”);
- DUI school and/or alcohol treatment programs;
- Probation costs; and
- Increased automobile insurance rates (SR-22).
There could be collateral costs associated with impaired driving charges. For example, you might lose time from work while in jail or lose your job because of an arrest or conviction.
You could face penalties from a licensing board if you hold a professional license. If you cannot drive, you will have additional transportation costs.
19. DUIs Can Impact Travel to Other Countries
Some countries have laws that prevent a person from entering the country if they have a criminal record, including convictions for driving while intoxicated.
For example, Mexico and Canada might prevent you from entering the country with a DUI on your record. A first-time drunk driving offense several years ago might not stop you from entering the country. However, you might be required to file a special petition to enter the country.
Another option would be to file a petition for DUI expungement. An expungement removes the conviction from your record and shows the charge as being dismissed. You can then truthfully state you have not been convicted of a crime.
20. You Can Fight a DUI Offense – Hiring a California DUI Attorney
The best way to protect your rights and fight DUI charges is to hire an experienced California DUI lawyer. A DUI attorney has the resources to investigate your arrest.
They also have years of school, training, and experience that allows them to analyze the state’s evidence against you to determine the best defense strategy for your case. Your lawyer may use one or more DUI defenses in your case.
DUI defenses can include:
- Rising alcohol levels and residual mouth alcohol;
- Police officers did not have reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop or probable cause for an arrest;
- Challenging the results of chemical tests for BAC levels for violations of Title 27 regulations for collecting, testing, and storing urine or blood samples;
- You were not driving the motor vehicle;
- Margin for errors and inherent rates for blood and breath tests;
- Failing to follow correct police procedures during a DUI investigation, arrest, and booking;
- Illegal searches and seizures, including unlawful blood draws;
- Inaccurate and unreliable field sobriety tests;
- Being arrested for DUI at an unlawful sobriety checkpoint;
- Errors made during breath tests, including environmental factors, health conditions, instrument malfunction, mistakes by police officers;
- Using fermented blood for a blood test;
- Failure to read you the Miranda rights after being arrested for DUI and conducting a custodial interrogation; and
- You were not impaired by the amount of alcohol or drugs in your system.
Talk to a California DUI Defense Attorney
Contact a California DUI lawyer for a free consultation to discuss the potential defenses to charges of driving under the influence. Police officers nor the prosecutor will truthfully tell you if you have a defense that will help you beat criminal offenses. You need a trusted DUI lawyer to give you legal advice. Most attorneys offer a free consultation so that you can get answers to your questions about DUI defense and your legal rights to make an informed decision about how you want to proceed with your DUI case.
Schedule a free consultation with one of our leading expert California DUI attorneys here.
Interested in this topic or want to learn more about DUIs in California? Check out our blog, which is updated regularly!