Increased Penalties for a High BAC

Monday, October 26th, 2015

When it comes to a California DUI, sentence there is a difference between driving drunk and driving really drunk.

It is not uncommon for a person to be caught driving drunk with a blood alcohol content of more than 0.15 percent. Unfortunately, it is also not uncommon for a person to be caught driving drunk with a blood alcohol content of more than 0.20 percent.

When this happens, in addition to being charged with the normal California DUI charges under California Vehicle Code section 23152 (a) and 23152(b), the prosecutor will also include what is known as a “special allegation” in the complaint. As a result of the “special allegation,” the person arrested for a California DUI is now actually facing increased penalties.

California Vehicle Code section 23578 sets forth the special allegation when a person’s blood alcohol content is 0.15 to 0.19 percent.

“In addition to any other provision of this code, if a person is convicted of a violation of Section 23152 or 23153, the court shall consider a concentration of alcohol in the person’s blood of 0.15 percent or more, by weight, or the refusal of the person to take a chemical test, as a special factor that may justify enhancing the penalties in sentencing, in determining whether to grant probation, and, if probation is granted, in determining additional or enhanced terms and conditions of probation.”

In my experience, there are a number of common enhanced penalties that a prosecutor seeks when there is a special allegation that a person’s BAC was 0.15 or more. Those enhancements include, but are not limited to, a longer DUI program, AA meetings as a condition of probation, AA meetings as a condition of being released on their own recognizance pending the outcome of their case, MADD’s Victim Impact Panel, and/or a Hospital and Morgue Program.

When a person’s blood alcohol content is 0.20 percent or more, California Vehicle Code section 23538(b)(2) provides:

“The court shall refer a first offender whose blood-alcohol concentration was 0.20 percent (.20%) or more, by weight, or who refused to take a chemical test, to participate for at least nine (9) months or longer, as ordered by the court, in a licensed program that consists of at least 60 hours of program activities, including those education, group counseling, and individual interview sessions described in Chapter 9 (commencing with Section 11836) of Part 2 of Division 10.5 of the Health and Safety Code.”

Although section 23538(b)(2) specifically mentions a 9-month DUI program (called AB1353), there’s a good chance that the prosecutor will be pushing for an 18-month program (called SB38). The longer DUI program would be in addition to any of the other increased penalties I mentioned above.

When a California DUI case includes special allegations such as these, it is important and especially advantageous to the DUI-arrestee that an experienced California DUI attorney not only fight the underlying DUI charges, but the special allegations as well.  




Traveling to Canada after a California DUI Conviction

Monday, July 6th, 2015

I’ve recently represented several people in California DUI cases who, after having been convicted, needed to travel to Canada. They were all surprised to learn that traveling to visit our neighbors to the north after a California DUI conviction was not as easy as they thought.

Canada considers driving under the influence as a very serious crime, so much so in fact, that they consider it an “indictable offense.” This is the functional equivalent to a felony under California law. Unlike California where a DUI is, for the most part, considered a misdemeanor for a first, second and third offense and punishable up to a year in jail, as an indictable offense in Canada, a DUI is punishable up to five years in jail.

Because all DUIs are, for all intents and purposes, considered felonies, anybody convicted of a DUI or even a wet reckless is excludable from entry into Canada under their Immigration Act.

Not all hope is lost. There are several exceptions where Canadian law allows a non-Canadian entry into the country despite a California DUI conviction.

The first exception is to be “deemed rehabilitated.” To be deemed rehabilitated, the maximum term of imprisonment for the DUI conviction was less than 10 years, the sentence for the California DUI conviction was completed at least 10 years ago, and no other indictable offenses were committed during those 10 years. If someone meets these criteria, they do not need to do anything further to gain entry into Canada, although it would be a good idea to have proof of this when trying to cross the border.

The second way to gain entry into Canada notwithstanding a California DUI conviction is “individual rehabilitation,” otherwise known as “rehabilitation by application.” The first requirement is that at least five years must have passed since the completion of the sentence for a California DUI conviction. It gets tricky however in trying to calculate the five-year wait period. The five-year wait period can be calculated in the following ways: 1.) five years from the date of sentencing if given a suspended sentence; 2.) five years from the date a fine was paid if given a suspended sentence and a fine; 3.) five years from the end of a prison term with no parole; 4.) five years from the end of parole or probation if sentenced to either; or 5.) five years from the end of a driver’s license suspension.

If someone meets the criteria needed for individual rehabilitation, they will need to fill out an application and submit it to a Canadian visa office located in the U.S. The application requires the applicant to explain why they are rehabilitated. The submission of the application for individual rehabilitation also requires a non-refundable application fee.

Another option to enter Canada even if someone has a California DUI conviction on their record is to obtain an expungement of the conviction. An expungement is the equivalent to a Canadian “record suspension.” Under Canadian law, a person cannot be denied entry for a DUI conviction where a record suspension has been issued for that conviction. To be eligible for an expungement of a California DUI conviction, a person must have successfully completed probation and must not have any criminal actions pending against them including criminal charges, probation on another case, or serving a sentence for another case.

While an expungement is the most common and efficient way to obtain entry into Canada, it would be wise to consult an immigration attorney to ensure that the expungement will meet the requirements of a “record suspension.”

The last way to enter Canada with a California DUI conviction on the record is to apply for a “temporary resident permit.” A temporary resident permit may be given when an applicant must enter Canada for a specific purpose and only for a limited period of time. The applicant must also so that the need to enter Canada must outweigh any risk to Canadian public safety. Like individual rehabilitation, an applicant must pay a non-refundable application fee.

Anyone wishing to enter Canada following a California DUI conviction through any of the abovementioned avenues should consult with both a criminal defense attorney as well as an immigration attorney.


Can You Get a California DUI While Parked?

Monday, May 4th, 2015

The first word in the acronym DUI is “drive,” yet many people believe that a person can get a California DUI even if they didn’t drive a vehicle. While that may be the case in other states, in California a prosecutor needs to prove that a person actually drove a vehicle while intoxicated.

California Vehicle Code section 23152 (a) and (b) reads, “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or who has 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle.”

So can a person be arrested and subsequently convicted if police find them drunk and passed out in a parked car?

In the 1991 case of Mercer v. Department of Motor Vehicles, the California Supreme Court held that the word “drive” for purposes of California’s DUI law required evidence of a defendant’s volitional movement of a vehicle. With his holding, the California Supreme Court upheld “decades of case law” on the issue.

In 1985, it was held in the case of People v. Wilson that “[w]ith regard to the offence of driving under the influence…a ‘slight movement’ of the vehicle in the officer’s presence has been a determinative factor in concluding whether or not a defendant was ‘driving’ in the presence of the officer.”

So does that mean that the officer must witness a “slight movement” of the vehicle? No.

The court in Wilson went on to say, “On the other hand, where the sufficiency of the evidence to support the judgement is in question, as contrasted with the validity of a defendant’s arrest, it is clear that the existence of evidence establishing a ‘slight movement’ of the vehicle does not present a problem. In the absence of such direct evidence of ‘driving’ the element of ‘driving’ may nonetheless be established at trial through circumstantial evidence…”

Simply put, a prosecutor needs to prove that a DUI suspect, at the very least, caused a vehicle to slightly move. The easiest way to prove that the DUI suspect was driving is if an officer observes a “slight movement” of the vehicle. However, if an officer does not observe a “slight movement,” a prosecutor can still prove that a person drove a vehicle with circumstantial evidence.

Circumstantial evidence that has been used to prove that a person drove for purposes of a California DUI include, but not limited to, officers finding the vehicle at or close to an accident site or finding the vehicle in the middle of the road.

California’s DUI law is different than several other states which only require “dominion and control” over a vehicle. In those states, DUI suspects can be charged and convicted if they are found intoxicated while having “dominion and control” over a vehicle with the potential to drive it.

So to answer our initial question of whether a person can arrested and subsequently convicted of a California DUI if they’re found drunk and passed out in a parked car, the answer is it depends. It depends on whether the prosecutor can prove that the person actually drove the vehicle.


California Proposes New Law to Allow Roadside Marijuana Test

Monday, April 27th, 2015

Assembly Bill 1356 has made its way to Capitol Hill and, if passed, would allow law enforcement to use a device similar to a breathalyzer that could detect the presence of marijuana and a number of other drugs in a driver’s system in a matter of minutes.

“It’s very clear that the usage of marijuana is becoming more and more common,” said Assemblyman Tom Lackey from Palmdale, California, who proposed the law.

The law would expand California’s current implied consent law to “provide that a person who drives a motor vehicle is deemed to have given his or her consent to chemical testing of his or her blood or oral fluids for the purpose of determining the drug content of his or her blood or oral fluids.”

Currently, if law enforcement want to test for the presence of drugs in a driver’s system following the lawful arrest of that driver, they need to withdraw blood which could take hours.

According to CBS San Francisco, officers would be able to use a portable drug detection device called Alere™ DDS®2 that would allow law enforcement to perform a test on drivers’ oral fluids gathered from the gum line and cheeks. The swabbed fluid samples could provide results within five minutes according to the device’s developers.

"We’d be testing for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, methamphetamines and benzodiazepine," said Fred Delfino, spokesperson for Alere DDS 2, the company behind the new device.

You may recall from my previous posts that the Los Angeles Police Department had been given a federal grant to test these devices.

“The number of drugged drivers is increasing rapidly, and those of us in law enforcement simply do not have the tools necessary to determine the level of impairment on anything other than alcohol,” said Ron Lawrence, chief of police for Rocklin. “If the legalization of marijuana is in our future, we in California law enforcement need to be prepared to deal with the roadways and safety precautions of tomorrow."

The problem is that the device does not test for impairment. It only tests for the presence of the drugs.

It has yet to be determined what amount of drugs found in a person’s system will constitute impairment. According to Lackey, that part of the bill has not yet been worked out.

There is an established correlation between blood alcohol content, specifically the legal limit of 0.08 percent, and alcohol impairment. Unlike alcohol, however, there is no such correlation between the presence of drugs and impairment.

"I think that people want to have a clear-cut, black-and-white solution," says Mason Tvert, the communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group. "They want a specific number that we can use to just say that this person is impaired or not. Unfortunately, it’s a little more of a gray area than that."

Unfortunately, Tvert is correct and that gray area can lead to sober drivers getting arrested for DUI of marijuana.

Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the active component of marijuana. Unlike alcohol which dissipates after several hours, THC can stay in a person’s system for weeks at a time and well after the person has smoked.

Simply put, the mere presence of THC in a person does not necessarily mean that the person is impaired and incapable of safely operating a vehicle and the new device, if AB1356 passes, could be used to prosecute sober drivers.


What is the True Cost of a First-Time California DUI?

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

You may have seen the billboards a couple years ago warning motorists that a DUI can cost a person up to $16,000 total. I suspect that it has gone up since then. People have asked me whether this figure is accurate and what they can actually expect to spend after a first-time California DUI conviction. So let’s do the math.

Now I don’t say this next thing because I’m an attorney who is trying to solicit clients, but rather I’m saying it as an attorney who knows what to expect from the court process. Hire a lawyer. Attorneys have gone through three or more years of a law school, passed the unbelievably rigorous bar exam, and eventually become licensed to practice law in California for a reason. That reason is to go to court for people. Don’t think you can do it on your own.

Having said that, attorneys can cost between $1,000 and $10,000 depending on who they are, what their reputation is, and what their experience is. You can do your own math based on these figures. But of the attorney and law firms I know, I’d say a safe average is $3,500. This will usually cover a retainer up to, but not including trial. Those costs can be much more.

Upon conviction, the court will impose fines and fees. The statutory minimum for a first time DUI is $390 and the statutory maximum is $1,000. Fortunately for first-time California DUI offenders, the court usually imposes the minimum. Unfortunately, however, the court tacks on “penalties and assessments.” It is difficult to know exactly how much these penalties and assessments will amount to. In fact, today in court I heard a judge say that even he didn’t know how much amounted to. But, as a rule of thumb, I tell my clients to expect four to five times what the base fine is. So for the sake of our discussion, let’s say an even $1,700.

Most people convicted of a first-time California DUI will be required to take a three month DUI program. While people can choose from a number of programs with slightly different enrollment costs, a three month DUI program can cost a person around $575.

In Los Angeles, Alameda, Sacramento, and Tulare Counties, a person convicted of a first-time California DUI will be required to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle for five months. On average, a person can expect to pay about $100 to have the device installed and about $2.50 per day to lease the device, have it maintained, and keep it calibrated. This amounts to about $325.

If a person’s vehicle is towed and stored at a yard, which is often the case following a California DUI arrest, that person can expect to pay about $350 to have it released.

Once a person is eligible to have their license reinstated by the California DMV, they will need to pay $125 to the DMV as a reinstatement fee.

However the single most expensive cost following a California DUI conviction is the increase in insurance premiums. In order to drive following a California DUI, the California DMV will require a person to file an SR-22 form. This document certifies to the DMV that, notwithstanding the DUI conviction, a person’s insurance company still insures them for California’s minimum requirements for automobile insurance liability coverage. The exact amount it costs to maintain the SR-22 is difficult to calculate because a number of factors such as age, gender, place of residence, and the rates of the particular insurance company.

Because the amounts of increased insurance premiums are difficult to calculate, I’ll use the figure used by the 2013 Automobile Club’s estimate for a 25 year old male over a 10 year period. This was the amount used when the Automobile Club announced that the total costs of a DUI were $16,000 in 2013. This amount was $10,154.

I’ll save you from doing the math. When you add all of these figure up it amount to $16,729.

This is about as rough as an estimate as we can get. Remember there are a number of other factors that contribute to the overall cost of a DUI. Having said that, this number can still be used as a guide to what a person can expect to pay following a first-time California DUI conviction.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…

Before you head out for a night of drinking don’t turn your $50 bar tab into a $16,000 mistake.