Category Archives: DUI Law
Driving under the influence in California has immediate and long-term consequences. After a DUI arrest, the police officer seizes your driver’s license. In addition, depending on the circumstances of your arrest, the police officer may impound your vehicle after a DUI arrest.
After your car is impounded, understanding your legal rights can help you get your car back quickly. However, be prepared to pay an impound fee and possibly install an ignition interlock device (IID) if you want to continue driving on a restricted driver’s license.
When Do Police Officers Impound Vehicles After a DUI Arrest?
If a police officer arrests you for drunk driving, the question arises of what to do with your vehicle. Leaving a vehicle on the side of the road is rarely an option. California Vehicle Code §22651 gives police officers authority to remove vehicles if they take you into custody.
Generally, police officers are required to have vehicles towed to the police impound lot when:
- Your vehicle is evidence or part of a crime scene (i.e., a DUI accident involving injuries or fatalities)
- The vehicle’s condition does not permit someone to drive it safely
- There are no nearby locations to park and leave your car legally and safely
- You have prior DUI convictions on your driving record during the past ten years
However, a police officer may not automatically impound your car if you have a prior DUI. The officer might not take the time to review your driving history during a DUI traffic stop. Instead, the officer might focus solely on the current drunk driving offense.
If the law does not require a police officer to impound your vehicle, your attitude during the DUI stop can significantly impact the officer’s decisions regarding vehicle impoundment.
The police officer may allow a sober passenger to drive the vehicle. Officers might pull your vehicle to a safe location at a DUI checkpoint. However, someone must pick up your vehicle before the end of the DUI checkpoint. Generally, only the registered owner can pick up a car at a DUI checkpoint. However, the officer might allow you to designate someone to pick up your vehicle if you are the registered owner.
An officer could offer to drive your vehicle a short distance to a parking lot or other safe location. However, if you are belligerent, disrespectful, and uncooperative, the officer is unlikely to “see” a safe parking location nearby the traffic stop.
Can the Court Impound My Car After a DUI Arrest in California?
Yes, the court may impound your vehicle as part of the DUI penalties. For a first-time DUI conviction, the judge may order your car to remain in the impound lot for up to 30 days or not at all. A second DUI results in impoundment for up to 30 days. After three or more DUIs, the court can impound your vehicle for 90 days.
Having your vehicle impounded after a DUI in California is expensive. Whenever possible, try to avoid impoundment by politely asking the police officer if there is a way to have your vehicle parked or someone pick it up to avoid the impound lot.
Another way to avoid a long impound period is to agree to install an ignition interlock device (IID). It may be expensive, but you might be able to continue driving if you qualify for a restricted driver’s license with IID installation.
While asset forfeiture is not common, it can happen as part of a DUI case. When your vehicle is used to commit a crime, the law states that you can lose ownership of your car (asset forfeiture). In a DUI case, forfeiting your car generally only occurs if:
- The court declares your vehicle a nuisance because you have numerous DUI convictions within seven years
- You were involved in a DUI accident that resulted in a traffic fatality
- Your drunk driving arrest involved illegal drugs, especially if the police officer seizure illegal drugs from your car when they searched it
Seeking legal advice from an experienced California DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible after an arrest is in your best interest. A DUI attorney reviews your case and advises you of your legal options for fighting DUI charges and vehicle impoundments or forfeitures.
What Should I Do if My Car is Impounded After a DUI in California?
Acting fast can save you money after the police impound your car. You pay a fee for each day your car remains in the impound lot. The longer you wait to reclaim your vehicle from an impound lot, the higher the fees are to reclaim your vehicle.
To get your car back after a DUI impoundment, you need:
- Proof of vehicle registration showing you are the registered owner
- Proof of required liability insurance
- Your temporary driver’s license or Notice of Suspension
- Payment for all fees and costs charged for the impound, including fees for towing, daily storage, indoor storage, lien, and after-hours charges
You cannot retrieve your car until the police or the court release the vehicle from impound. The state only releases impounded vehicles to their registered owner. Therefore, if someone else was driving your vehicle, you do not need to wait to retrieve your car. However, you are responsible for paying the impound fees.
Some drivers may not be able to pay the fees to get their vehicles out of impound. Long impound periods could result in fees totaling more than a vehicle is worth. If you do not pick up your car from impound, your car may be sold at auction to pay the impound fees. Check with a California DUI attorney to determine the deadline for picking up your vehicle from impound after a DUI arrest.
What Happens to You After a DUI Arrest in California?
The police officers transport you to jail after a DUI arrest. California Vehicle Code §23152 makes it unlawful to:
- Drive a passenger vehicle with a BAC level of .08% or higher
- Operate a commercial motor vehicle or a vehicle with a passenger for hire in the car with a BAC of .04% or higher
- Operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol
- Drive a motor vehicle under the influence of any drug
- Operate a motor vehicle under the influence of a combination of any drug and alcohol
A police officer initiates a traffic stop if the officer has probable cause to believe a crime is being or has been committed. For example, the officer may pull you over if he witnesses driving behavior that indicates you might be impaired by alcohol and/or drugs. However, the officer may also pull you over for a traffic infraction.
If the police officer suspects you are impaired during the traffic stop, he may request that you take a pre-assessment screen test, such as a roadside breathalyzer or cheek swab. You can refuse field sobriety tests and roadside preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) tests without penalty.
However, California’s implied consent law requires you to take a chemical test to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC) level after an arrest for drunk driving. Refusal to submit to chemical testing after a DUI arrest can result in additional jail time and a longer duration for DUI school.
Refusing a chemical BAC test after a DUI arrest results in an automatic license suspension. You cannot receive a restricted driver’s license at any time during the license suspension period for refusing a chemical test.
What Are the Penalties for a Drunk Driving Conviction in California?
The sentence for a DUI conviction depends on your prior DUI history and whether there are aggravating factors involved in your drunk driving case.
DUIs are priorable criminal offenses in California. Therefore, the severity of the penalties for each subsequent DUI conviction within ten years increases. A felony DUI conviction can be counted against you regardless of when you were convicted.
Aggravating factors can also increase the severity of DUI punishments. Aggravating factors that enhance a DUI sentence include, but might not be limited to:
- Having a high BAC level (generally .15% or higher) at the time of your arrest
- Being under 21 years old at the time of a DUI arrest
- Having a minor under 14 years of age in the car while driving under the influence
- Excessive speed (i.e., driving 20 miles per hour or more over the posted speed limit)
- Causing injuries or death while driving under the influence
- Refusal to submit to a chemical test
- Driving under the influence while on DUI probation
Assuming that this is your first DUI conviction and there were no aggravating factors to enhance the DUI sentence, the judge could punish you with:
- Six-month loss of driving privileges
- Fines and assessments of up to $2,000
- Up to six months in county jail
- Attending DUI school for three to nine months
- Summary (informal) probation for three to five years
The court may also require you to install an ignition interlock device (IID) for up to six months.
You can fight DUI charges with the help of a California DUI lawyer. Violations of your civil rights, lack of probable cause, challenges to BAC tests, and violations of Title 17 are just a few DUI defenses that could beat DUI charges.
The first step is to seek legal advice from a trusted, experienced DUI defense attorney in California.
California has some of the strictest DUI laws in the country. The penalties for DUI convictions increase with each subsequent drunk driving conviction within ten years. A felony DUI conviction remains a priorable criminal offense, regardless of when the conviction occurred. Unfortunately, you could face additional penalties for driving under the influence in some cases.
California DUI laws include provisions for sentencing enhancements. You could face enhanced penalties if you are convicted of driving under the influence with aggravating circumstances. An experienced California DUI attorney can review your drunk driving charges to determine what DUI defenses could result in a dismissal or reduction in charges and penalties.
What Are Sentence Enhancements for a California DUI Conviction?
A sentence enhancement is an additional penalty imposed by statute for DUI offenses involving aggravating factors. The specific enhancements that could be added to your DUI sentence depend on the aggravating factor involved in your DUI case. Potential sentence enhancements for DUI cases include, but might not be limited to:
- Longer periods of driver’s license suspension or revocation
- Extended jail time or prison sentences
- Longer periods of summary probation (informal DUI probation)
- Increases assessments, fines, and fees
- Mandatory installation of ignition interlock devices (IIDs)
- Additional community service
- Longer terms for DUI school and/or alcohol and drug treatment programs
- Additional terms added for probation
- Mandatory restitution payments to DUI accident victims
- Vehicle impoundment for longer periods
Many factors could trigger enhanced sentencing for DUI charges. The factors generally increase the risk of injury to others or the threat to the general public. Therefore, in addition to being charged with DUI, you could be charged with additional crimes and traffic offenses that result in separate penalties for a conviction.
California DUI laws include several factors that can enhance DUI punishments. Examples of aggravating factors that can lead to harsher DUI sentences include:
- Prior DUI convictions on your criminal record
- DUI cases involving excessive speeds
- Driving recklessly while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs
- Causing injury or death to individuals while driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol
- Refusal to submit to chemical tests or breath tests after a DUI arrest
- Having a high blood alcohol content (BAC) level
- Underage drinking and driving
- DUI with a minor in the vehicle under 14 years of age
This article specifically deals with the California code section that enhances DUI penalties for excessive speed and reckless driving. More than one aggravating factor can be present in a DUI case. Therefore, the defendant could face multiple enhancements for different aggravating factors.
California Sentencing Enhancement Code for DUI With Excessive Speeds and Reckless Driving
California Vehicle Code §23582 adds enhanced penalties for speeding and reckless driving while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. According to the code section, an enhancement of at least 60 days in jail is added to the sentence for a DUI conviction when:
- A driver is convicted of drunk driving under California Vehicle Code §23152 or §23153; AND,
- While driving at a speed exceeding the maximum, prima facie, or posted speed limit by 30 miles per hour on a freeway or 20 miles per hour on any other street; AND,
- The driver was driving in a reckless manner.
If the driver is convicted under Vehicle Code §23582, the driver must also attend an alcohol and/or drug education program (DUI school) as part of the enhanced sentencing requirements.
It is essential to understand that the 60 days in jail is in addition to any other sentence imposed by the court for a DUI conviction. So, for example, if the judge suspends the execution of the sentence or grants DUI probation, you must still serve the 60 days in jail according to the enhanced sentence.
The enhanced penalties are mandatory. Judges may only waive these penalties when justice would be served by waiving the enhanced penalties for aggravating factors.
Fighting Speed Enhanced Penalties for a DUI in California
The state must prove each of the three legal elements for enhanced penalties to apply. Therefore, if the state proves you were driving under the influence, but fails to prove you were speeding by more than 20 to 30 miles per hour (depending on the location), enhanced penalties will not apply. Likewise, if the prosecutor proves drunk driving and speeding, but fails to prove reckless driving, the court does not impose enhanced penalties.
The burden of proving each legal requirement rests with the state. The prosecutor must prove that you are guilty of each legal element required to justify speed enhanced penalties beyond a reasonable doubt. A skilled California DUI defense lawyer understands how to raise reasonable doubt by challenging the statements by police officers and the results of BAC tests.
Furthermore, speeding does not automatically qualify as reckless driving. Therefore, the attorney may argue there is a lack of evidence proving the person was driving recklessly. Without specific and strong evidence of recklessness, the state’s argument for enhanced penalties might fail.
Negotiating a DUI Charge Down to Reckless Driving or Exhibition of Speed
Determining whether to accept a DUI plea deal depends on the facts of the case. In challenging cases, a California DUI attorney may negotiate for reduced charges. Reduced charges may avoid the enhanced penalties required under California Vehicle Code §23582. Other potential benefits of a plea deal for reduced charges include:
- The reduced charge may not be a priorable offense on your criminal record
- Reduced or no jail time
- Decrease in fines and assessments
- Less of an impact on professional licenses, student loans, scholarships, job applications, etc.
- Elimination of mandatory ignition interlock devices (IIDs)
- Reduced or no DUI school or DUI probation
- No mandatory driver’s license suspension
The reduction in fines and penalties depends on what charge the prosecutor agrees to allow you to plead guilty to instead of drunk driving charges. Reduced charges that might be available for a DUI plea agreement include:
Wet Reckless (Vehicle Code §23103.5)
Wet reckless is a common reduced sentence used for DUI plea agreements. The “wet” reference in the charge refers to a reckless driving charge involving alcohol. The law requires the court record to reflect that alcohol was involved. Therefore, wet reckless might avoid high fines, mandatory jail time, and other penalties for a DUI conviction, but it counts as a priorable offense for future DUI cases.
Dry Reckless (Vehicle Code §23103)
As a defendant, dry reckless is a better charge for a DUI plea deal because it does not count as a priorable offense for future DUI convictions. A dry reckless may not be viewed as harsh by insurance providers and other parties reviewing your criminal record.
Exhibition of Speed (Vehicle Code §23109c)
This traffic offense is used when drivers engage in a speed contest. Unfortunately, prosecutors seldom agree to reduce DUI charges to exhibition of speed charges. It is a misdemeanor offense with no note regarding alcohol. The penalties for this offense are much less harsh than the penalties for reckless driving charges.
Non-Criminal Traffic Offenses
There would need to be several potential DUI defenses and serious problems with the state’s case for a prosecutor to plead a DUI down to a traffic offense. However, an experienced California DUI defense attorney considers all possibilities. For example, if there are issues regarding probable cause, lack of evidence, or police misconduct, your DUI lawyer may propose a pleading down to a traffic offense.
Your attorney might propose pleading down to a charge of consuming alcohol in a motor vehicle or another traffic offense. Because the charges are non-criminal, you only face fines, points against your driver’s license, and traffic school for a guilty plea.
Should I Accept a DUI Plea Agreement or Proceed to Trial?
The decision to plead guilty or take your chances in court depends on many factors. The prosecutor and police officers do not give you honest, reliable advice about your legal options. Instead, you should review your options for fighting DUI charges with an experienced California drunk driving defense lawyer.
Several factors that your lawyer considers when advising you about a DUI plea agreement include, but are not limited to:
- The strength of the evidence proving your BAC level was over the legal limit of .08% (.04% for commercial drivers and for-hire drivers and .01% for underage drivers)
- Your criminal history and prior DUI convictions
- The evidence the prosecution has to prove each of the required legal elements beyond a reasonable doubt
- Whether there are aggravating factors that could lead to a much harsher sentence if you take the case to trial and lose
- The potential DUI defenses for your case and the strength of those arguments
- Evidence indicating you were impaired while operating a motor vehicle
Only you can decide whether you are comfortable fighting DUI charges in court or accepting a plea agreement. However, remember that prosecutors are experienced, trained trial lawyers. They will take advantage of your lack of knowledge regarding the law.
Before accepting a DUI plea agreement, talk to a California DUI lawyer. Verify that the plea agreement terms are in your best interest before pleading guilty to DUI charges.
The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects us from being prosecuted twice for the same crime. However, all sanctions do not qualify under the Double Jeopardy rule. The protections in the U.S. Constitution apply both in federal court and state courts.
Therefore, you can be “punished” by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for driving under the influence and face criminal penalties for a DUI conviction.
Raising Double Jeopardy as a Defense to the DMV Hearing and a DUI Criminal Case
When the DMV suspends your driving privileges for driving under the influence, it is an administrative corrective action. The courts do not consider the DMV suspension a punishment or penalty for criminal charges. Instead, the threat of losing your driving privileges for a DUI arrest is a deterrent to drunk driving.
Double jeopardy does not apply because the DMV action is not a punishment or penalty. Therefore, the prosecution may continue with a criminal case based on the same DUI arrest.
A police officer seizes your driver’s license when he arrests you on drunk driving charges in California. As a result, you receive a Notice of Suspension from the police officer. The Notice of Suspension allows you to continue to drive for 30 days. It also notifies you that you have ten days to request a DMV administrative hearing, or the DMV will suspend your driver’s license.
A DMV hearing officer conducts the administrative hearing. After considering the evidence, the DMV officer may set aside the suspension and reinstate your driving privileges. If the DMV officer allows the suspension to stand, you must wait until the end of the suspension period to reinstate your driver’s license.
An administrative per se hearing to suspend driving privileges is separate from any criminal charges filed by the state. The DMV may act before the prosecutor files criminal charges in some cases. The reason is that a DMV suspension is based on a DUI arrest, not a DUI conviction. Therefore, merely being arrested for drunk driving can result in losing your driver’s license.
How Long Does a DMV Suspension Period Last After a DUI Arrest in California?
The DMV suspension period depends upon whether you took a chemical test and your prior DUI history. For a first offense DUI with a BAC of .08% or higher, the suspension period is four months. If you have a prior DUI conviction on your record, the DMV suspends your driving privileges for one year. In addition, drivers under the age of 21 years with a BAC of .01% or higher lose their driving privileges for one year.
Refusal of a chemical test results in an automatic one-year suspension for a first-time DUI offense and a two-year suspension for a second DUI offense. After three DUI arrests within ten years, the DMV suspends your driver’s license for three years.
What Happens When I Am Charged With Multiple DUI Offenses for a Single DUI Stop?
The primary statute for drunk driving is California Traffic Code §23152. Under this statute, you can be charged with a criminal offense if:
- You operate a motor vehicle with a BAC of .08% or higher
- You drive a motor vehicle under the influence of any alcoholic beverage
- You operate a commercial motor vehicle with a BAC of .04% or higher
- Your BAC level is .04% or higher while driving a motor vehicle when a passenger for hire is in the vehicle
- Your drive a motor vehicle under the influence of any drug or a combination of any alcoholic beverage and drug
It is common for a prosecutor to charge a drunk driver under more than one section of the California drunk driving statute.
Double jeopardy does not prevent the state from prosecuting you for multiple DUI offenses for the same arrest. It also does not prevent you from being found guilty of multiple DUI offenses. However, you cannot face multiple sentences for DUI convictions related to the same DUI stop.
DUI Convictions and California Penal Code Section 654 PC
A prosecutor may charge you with multiple DUI offenses because they believe at least one charge will result in a drunk driving conviction. However, California Penal Code §654 PC prohibits double punishment for the same crime.
However, the prosecution may charge you with multiple DUI offenses in a single case. All offenses may be tried together before a judge or jury. The legal term for this process is joinder.
The code section applies when a person commits one act that leads to multiple criminal charges. While the state can accuse you of multiple criminal offenses, you can only be punished for one.
Generally, the court imposes punishment under the offense with the longest potential imprisonment term. However, the court cannot punish you for both DUI offenses. Furthermore, the code section provides that the court cannot grant probation if any of the criminal offenses prohibit granting probation.
What is the Typical Sentence for a DUI Conviction in California?
Drunk driving convictions are priorable offenses in California. The penalties for subsequent DUI convictions within ten years increase with each conviction. A felony DUI conviction counts against you for the rest of your life.
Assuming that you have no prior DUI convictions or aggravating circumstances, the typical sentence for a first-time DUI conviction in California includes:
- Assessments and a fine of $1,500 to $2,000, depending on the county of arrest
- Up to six months in county jail
- Informal (summary) probation from three to five years
- Attendance at DUI school for three to nine months
- Driver’s license suspension for six months
- Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) for up to six months
The court may sentence you to probation instead of jail time if you have a clean driving history and no factors exist that could enhance the DUI penalties. You will be required to follow all conditions of probation. Violating DUI probation can result in the court revoking probation and reinstating the original DUI sentence. The court may also punish you for the probation violation.
If you refuse a chemical test and are convicted of DUI, you could face mandatory jail time. Likewise, if your DUI involves injury to another person, the penalties for a conviction increase.
A DUI conviction in California results in a criminal record. You might qualify to have the DUI expunged, but that does not remove the DUI arrest from your driving record. It only removes the guilty verdict and dismisses the DUI case. The drunk driving charge would still count as a priorable offense for future DUI convictions.
If the police arrest you for driving under the influence, your best step is to contact a California DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible. A California DUI attorney can help you prepare to fight DUI charges and assist you with negotiations for favorable terms for a DUI plea agreement.
How Does Double Jeopardy Apply in Criminal Cases in California?
The Double Jeopardy Clause in the Fifth Amendment protects us from:
- Being prosecuted for the same criminal offense after receiving an acquittal for that offense;
- Receiving multiple punishments for the same criminal offense; and,
- Being convicted more than once for the same offense.
California Penal Code §687 adopts the protections of double jeopardy. The code section states that you cannot be prosecuted a second time for a public offense once you have been prosecuted and either convicted or acquitted. Repeatedly prosecuting a person for the same criminal offenses would subject that person to undue expense and time. It could also lead to a wrongful conviction.
Double jeopardy attaches to the criminal offense at specific points during criminal proceedings. Examples of when double jeopardy attaches may include:
- After the trial begins (i.e., the jury members are sworn in or the first witness is sworn in during a trial by judge)
- A mistrial or discharge of the jury without the defendant’s consent after a trial begins
- After the person is acquitted of criminal charges
- After pleading guilty based on a plea agreement
- Upon conviction for a criminal offense
The double jeopardy defense may apply in other situations. However, it is not available in all dismissals, but it could apply if the court discharges the defendant to become a witness for the prosecution in another criminal case. It could also apply in some cases where the prosecutor fails to bring a misdemeanor charge to trial in a timely manner.
Double jeopardy may also be a legal defense if the defendant appeals a conviction, the conviction is reversed, and the appeals court remands the case for a new trial. The prosecution cannot charge the defendant with a more serious offense at the new trial.
Double jeopardy does not prevent the prosecution from proceeding with criminal charges after a civil proceeding on the same facts. It only protects you from being criminally prosecuted for the same criminal offense more than one time. Double jeopardy does not apply to pre-trial proceedings or DMV license suspensions in DUI cases.
The above discussion is not a comprehensive discussion of the double jeopardy defense. Double jeopardy is a complicated legal question that an experienced California criminal defense attorney should address. If you believe the state is prosecuting you for the same DUI offense in violation of your civil rights or state laws, contact a California DUI lawyer immediately to discuss your legal options.
Commercial drivers have a lower “legal limit” for driving under the influence offenses. California Vehicle Code §23152(d) makes it unlawful to drive a commercial vehicle with a BAC (blood alcohol content) of .04% or higher. That is one-half the legal limit of the blood alcohol level for other motorists.
However, the lower legal limit only applies if the driver operates a commercial vehicle. For example, a person with a CDL (commercial driver’s license) has a legal limit of .08% when operating a non-commercial vehicle.
Truck drivers need to understand the BAC limit of .04% is a strict limit. The police can charge you with DUI even though the alcohol in your system does not impair your driving abilities. Merely having a BAC of .04% or higher while driving a commercial truck creates the presumption your driving abilities are impaired.
The penalties for a conviction of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs for a commercial driver can be severe. However, there are DUI defenses to a chemical DUI test. You should contact a California DUI lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your legal options for fighting commercial DUI charges.
Why is the BAC Limit Lower for Commercial Truck Drivers in California?
One reason for a lower BAC limit for truck drivers is the danger posed by DUI accidents. Large truck accidents cause catastrophic injuries and traffic fatalities. Over one-third of the deaths and injuries from truck accidents are people not in the truck. Passenger vehicles cannot withstand the impact with a semi-truck.
What Happens if a Commercial Driver Refuses a Chemical Test After a DUI Arrest in California?
California’s implied consent law requires states that anyone who drives a motor vehicle in California gives their consent to a chemical blood test or breath test to determine the alcohol content in their blood. The implied consent law applies after the police lawfully arrest a person on a DUI charge.
A police officer may request that you take pre-assessment tests during a DUI stop. However, you are not required to submit to field sobriety tests, breath tests, or cheek swabs before a DUI arrest.
However, refusal to submit to a chemical test after being arrested for drunk driving results in automatic suspension of your commercial driver’s license. Furthermore, refusal to submit to a chemical test results in additional jail time for a commercial DUI conviction.
The loss of driving privileges for refusing a chemical DUI test for truck drivers depends on the number of prior DUI convictions within ten years. The penalties are:
- No DUI convictions within ten years – one-year license suspension, 48 hours added to your jail sentence, and six extra months of DUI school
- One DUI conviction within ten years – two-year license suspension and 96 hours added to your jail sentence
- Two DUI convictions within ten years – three-year license suspension and ten days added to your jail sentence
- Three or more DUI convictions within ten years – three-year license suspension and 18 days added to your jail sentence
Unfortunately, a commercial truck driver cannot obtain a restricted license to drive a commercial vehicle during the period of their driver’s license suspension.
However, they may want to talk to a Southern California DUI defense attorney about the possibility of obtaining a restricted driver’s license for non-commercial vehicles. California DUI defense lawyers can also represent commercial truck drivers at DMV hearings to fight the automatic suspension of a CDL after a chemical test.
A CDL driver may be able to downgrade their driver’s license to a Class C or Class M driver’s license to operate non-commercial cars and motorcycles. If so, the person might be able to qualify for a restricted driver’s license.
While truck drivers might lose their jobs because they cannot operate commercial motor vehicles, they could drive to and from another job other than driving a truck with a restricted license. Restricted driver’s licenses also allow the person to take a dependent child to and from school if no public bus service or school bus is available. They can also take themselves and family members for medical care.
Penalties for Commercial DUI Convictions in California
The DUI laws governing commercial DUI cases are strict. Whether your DUI arrest was in Long Beach, San Francisco, or elsewhere in California, you need experienced legal advice immediately after a commercial drunk driving arrest. Your job depends on the outcome of the DUI case.
The penalties for driving a commercial vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol depend on your prior DUI record and whether injuries or deaths occurred because of a DUI accident.
Commercial DUI First Offense Misdemeanor
The penalties for a first-time commercial DUI with no third party injuries are:
- Fines and penalty assessments between $1,500 and $2,000
- Up to six months in county jail
- Informal or summary probation for three to five years
- Court-approved DUI school for three months to nine months
- Driver’s license suspension for at least one year
As discussed above, if a commercial driver refuses a chemical DUI test, additional jail time is added to the sentence in addition to a mandatory one-year suspended driver’s license for refusal to take the blood or breath test after a DUI arrest.
Loss of CDL Driving Privileges for a DUI Conviction in a Non-Commercial Vehicle
It is also important to note that under California Vehicle Code §15300, a commercial truck driver convicted of a DUI offense in a non-commercial vehicle cannot operate a commercial motor vehicle for one year for a first-time DUI offense. Therefore, your CDL could be suspended even if you are convicted of drunk driving in your personal vehicle.
Lifetime Revocation of CDL Privileges for a Second DUI Conviction
You lose your commercial driver’s license for life for a second DUI offense. It does not matter whether you are driving a non-commercial or commercial vehicle. If the police arrest you for a second DUI offense, contact a California DUI lawyer immediately to discuss fighting the DUI charges.
Penalties for DUI Accidents Resulting in an Injury
If a CDL driver causes a drunk driving accident that injures a third party, the driver faces a misdemeanor or felony DUI charges. DUI resulting in injury is a wobbler offense. The prosecutor decides whether to charge the driver with a felony or misdemeanor based on the facts of the case.
A misdemeanor commercial DUI conviction with injuries can result in:
- Fines up to $5,000
- Five days to one year in county jail
- Summary (informal) probation for three to five years
- Suspended driver’s license for one or three years
- Payment of restitution to the accident victim
- Up to 30 months of court-approved alcohol/drug education program
Felony commercial DUI convictions increase the severity of the penalties. In addition, you can be punished by serving time in state prison. You could lose your driver’s license for five years and be designated as a Habitual Traffic Offender.
The exact punishment depends on prior DUI convictions, the number of people injured, and the severity of the injuries. If a third party sustains great bodily injury, it counts as a strike under California’s Three Strikes law.
Fighting Commercial DUI Charges in California
Drivers holding a CDL have a lot at stake when they face charges of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. First, do not talk to the police officers or the prosecutor without an attorney present. Contact an experienced California DUI defense attorney as soon as possible. The sooner you have a lawyer handling your DUI case, the better chance you have of beating DUI charges.
A DUI arrest is not a conviction. However, you need an aggressive defense strategy. Relying on “innocent until proven guilty” is not advisable.
Your DUI lawyer thoroughly investigates the circumstances of your DUI stop and DUI arrest. If police officers lack probable cause for a DUI stop or arrest, your attorney files a motion to suppress evidence. If the judge finds the police violated your rights, the evidence collected by the police could be thrown out. Without the evidence, the prosecution may be unable to prove the DUI charges against you.
Other potential defenses to DUI charges for a commercial driver include:
- Police officers violated Title 17 procedures while conducting a chemical test
- The driver has a rising blood alcohol level at the time of the blood or breath test
- The officers failed to explain to the driver the consequences of refusing a chemical DUI test
- The police arrested the truck driver after an illegal DUI checkpoint
- The driver had a medical condition that produced incorrect BAC levels and/or caused the driver to “fail” the field sobriety tests
Depending on the facts of your case, there could be other DUI defenses available. If you cannot avoid a DUI conviction, hire a California DUI defense attorney to negotiate a plea bargain. An attorney may be able to secure better terms for the plea agreement.
Instead of pleading guilty to DUI charges, your attorney may negotiate a wet reckless or dry reckless plea agreement. Avoiding a DUI conviction is the goal for a driver with a commercial driver’s license.
Being arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in California can have numerous consequences. First, you have a criminal charge against you that could result in jail time, fines, and other criminal penalties.
However, you also have a second legal proceeding – the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) administrative review to suspend your license. The DMV administrative hearing only deals with your driving privileges. They cannot sentence you to jail or impose other criminal penalties. However, the DMV can suspend your driver’s license for a year or longer.
Therefore, it is crucial that you understand your legal rights at a DMV administrative hearing. For first-time DUI offenders, the process may be unfamiliar. Contacting an experienced California DUI attorney can give you the best chance of winning at a DMV license suspension hearing.
What is a California DMV Administrative Hearing for DUI Offenses?
After DUI arrests, police officers take the person’s driver’s license immediately. Then, he issues the person a Notice of Suspension that allows the person to continue driving for 30 days. The police officer must forward a copy of the Notice of Suspension and the driver’s license to the DMV.
If you receive a Notice of Suspension after a DUI arrest, you must act quickly. You have just ten days to request a DMV administrative hearing. If you do not request the hearing within ten days, the DMV automatically suspends your driver’s license.
A DMV hearing is your opportunity to present evidence proving your driver’s license suspension was not justified. If the DMV does not find evidence to support a suspension, it restores your driving privileges.
However, if you took a chemical blood, breath, or urine test and had a BAC (blood alcohol content) of .08% or higher, your driver’s license is suspended for four months for a first-time offense. A second DUI offense within ten years results in a one-year driver’s license suspension.
If you are under 21 years of age, and the chemical test or a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test shows a blood alcohol level of .01% or higher, you lose your driver’s license for one year.
It is important to remember that the DMV revocation of your driving privileges is separate from any criminal penalties ordered by the court. A judge could suspend your driver’s license for a longer period, depending on the circumstances of your DUI conviction.
What Are My Rights at a California DMV Administrative Hearing?
A DMV hearing is more relaxed than a criminal court case. A DMV hearing officer conducts the hearing instead of a judge. In many cases, the DMV hearing officer has no formal legal training. The DMV holds administrative hearings at a Driver Safety Office.
You have the right to be represented by a California DUI defense lawyer at the hearing, at your own expense. Your or your attorney has the right to:
- Review the evidence against you
- Cross-examine any witnesses presented by the DMV
- Testify on your own behalf
- Present evidence and witnesses on your behalf
- Subpoena witnesses to testify, including the arresting police officer
- Subpoena evidence and documents to use in your defense
You also have the right to receive a written decision after the hearing. If the decision is against you, you may request that the DMV conducts an administrative review. You also have the right to appeal the decision to Superior Court.
Who Has the Burden of Proof at a DMV Hearing in a DUI Case?
The hearing at the DMV only deals with your driving privileges. It does not decide whether or not you violated a criminal statute. The things a hearing officer considers when determining whether to suspend your driver’s license include:
- Whether you were in physical control or driving the vehicle
- If the arresting officer had probable cause to make a DUI stop
- Whether the DUI arrest was lawful
- If you were operating the motor vehicle with a BAC of .08% or higher
- Whether drugs or alcohol impaired your driving abilities
Unfortunately, the burden of proof and evidence required at a DMV hearing is lower than in a criminal DUI case. Therefore, you are going up against the police officer and the DMV at a disadvantage. Having a California DUI lawyer who can challenge the chemical results, field sobriety tests, and probably increases your chance of reversing the license suspension.
How Do I Schedule a DMV Administrative Hearing After a DUI Arrest in California?
Remember, you have just ten days to request a DMV hearing. If you hire a California DUI defense attorney, your lawyer can request the hearing if you hire him within just a few days. If not, you need to request the hearing and then decide whether you want to hire a DUI lawyer to represent you at the administrative hearing.
Hearing requests for DUI driver’s license suspensions must be made to the applicable Driver Safety Office. You must provide your full name, driver’s license number, and date of birth when requesting a hearing. You may also need to provide details of your DUI arrest, including the date of arrest, arresting officer’s name and ID number, and any tests used to determine your impairment.
Generally, you must request a hearing by telephone or fax. The information you need to provide is on your DUI arrest ticket or the Notice of Suspension.
Defending Yourself at a California DMV License Suspension Hearing
The defenses you present at a DMV administrative hearing depend on the facts and circumstances of your DUI arrest. Potential DUI defenses your attorney might raise at a DMV hearing could include, but are not limited to:
The DUI Arrest Was Unlawful
Your attorney may argue that the police officer lacked probable cause to make a traffic stop and/or DUI arrest. Without probable cause, the evidence against you could be thrown out of court. Therefore, it could be a compelling argument at a DMV hearing.
You Were Not Driving
You might convince the DMV hearing officer to reinstate your driving privileges by arguing you were not driving or in physical control of the motor vehicle. If the police officer did not see you driving the car and there is no other evidence, the DMV hearing officer may not suspend your driver’s license.
Title 17 Violations for Chemical Tests
Title 17 of the Code of Regulations has strict guidelines for collecting, storing, and testing chemical samples for DUI cases. Violations of these regulations could result in the BAC results being inadmissible because of possible contamination or other problems. If you can prove Title 17 violations, it may be sufficient for the DMV officer to rule in your favor.
Challenging the Accuracy of the BAC Results
Some medical conditions can result in falsely high BAC levels, including diabetes, GERD, and acid reflux. A high protein diet could also cause your BAC results to be false. If you can prove that a health condition or other issue not related to alcohol caused higher BAC levels, you could win your DMV hearing.
You Did Not Willfully Refuse a Chemical DUI Test
Suppose the officer did not explain that refusing to submit to a blood or breath test would result in an automatic driver’s license suspension. In that case, the DMV hearing officer may find that the suspension of your driving privileges should be set aside. However, proving you were not informed could be challenging when it is your word against the police officer’s testimony.
However, if you did not willfully refuse to submit to the test after the officer asked for a sample, that could be a different story. Some medical conditions prevent a person from blowing strong enough for a breath test. Therefore, if the officer did not request a blood test after you “failed” to blow hard enough on the breath test, that is not your fault.
Illegal DUI Checkpoint Arrests
California permits law enforcement agencies to conduct DUI checkpoints. However, the agencies must follow strict rules for establishing and operating the DUI checkpoints. Failing to follow those rules could result in an unlawful arrest.
Failure to Conduct a 15-Minute Observation Period
Title 17 requires that a police officer monitor a driver for at least 15 minutes before a breath test or blood test. If the person vomits, smokes, eats, drinks, regurgitates, or does anything to compromise the test, the waiting period must begin again. Failing to conduct the observation period correctly could result in inaccurate BAC results.
How Do I Reinstate My Driver’s License After a DUI in California?
At the end of your driver’s license suspension, you can apply to reinstate your driver’s license. To be eligible to reinstate your driving privileges, you must show:
- Enroll in California DUI school
- Pay a $125 reinstatement fee to the California DMV
- Submit an SR-22 insurance form
In some cases, you may need to install an ignition interlock device (IID) before you can begin driving again. The best way to avoid losing your driving privileges is to request a DMV administrative hearing and hire a California DUI lawyer to help you fight to keep your driver’s license.
Is it Worth Requesting a DMV Administrative Hearing After a DUI Arrest?
Yes, you could retain your driving privileges until the court resolves your DUI case. Also, your California DUI attorney has the opportunity to review the evidence against you and cross-examine the arresting officer. This information could be invaluable for determining the best DUI defense strategy. It also helps when negotiating a DUI plea agreement to know how a police officer may perform in court and the strength of the evidence against you.