California DUI Law 101

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

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.

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What are the Benefits (and Disadvantages) of a Wet Reckless?

Friday, October 19th, 2018

People very often ask whether it’s possible to get a wet reckless in their DUI case without even knowing what a wet reckless is or what it entails. They do, however, know that it’s something better than a DUI conviction. While they are correct in that it is better than a DUI charge, there are some very important distinctions between a DUI and a wet reckless.

First, it’s important to explain exactly what a wet reckless is.

A prosecutor cannot charge a wet reckless from the outset. It can only be reduced from a DUI charge. If it is offered and the driver accepts, the driver will be pleading guilty or no contest to California Vehicle Code section 23103 pursuant to section 23103.5 which reads, ““A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving…If the prosecution agrees to a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to a charge of [reckless driving] in satisfaction of, or as a substitute for, an original charge of a violation of [DUI], the prosecution shall state for the record a factual basis for the satisfaction or substitution, including whether or not there had been consumption of an alcoholic beverage or ingestion or administration of a drug, or both, by the defendant in connection with the offense. The statement shall set forth the facts that show whether or not there was a consumption of an alcohol beverage or the ingestion or administration of a drug by the defendant in connection with the offense.”

In other words, a driver who takes a wet reckless is pleading guilty (or no contest) to reckless driving involving alcohol.

A wet reckless is one of several reductions to a DUI charge that a prosecutor might offer as incentive to get the driver to take a plea deal. Typically, the wet reckless is only offered if there are issues with the prosecutor’s case that might make it difficult for them to win at trial. For example, a wet reckless might be offered when it is determined that the driver’ blood alcohol content is close to the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

In addition to looking better on paper than a DUI conviction, there are a number of other benefits to the wet reckless.

If a person is convicted of a second-time DUI within 10 years, they face a mandatory minimum of 96 hours in jail. If a person is convicted of a third-time DUI within 10 years, they face a mandatory minimum of 120 days in jail. However, if a person is convicted of only a wet reckless when they’ve suffered prior DUI convictions within a 10-year period, there is no mandatory minimum jail sentence. For example, if a person is convicted of a DUI in 2010 and then a wet reckless conviction in 2018, there is no mandatory minimum jail for the wet reckless.

On the other hand, if a person is convicted of a wet reckless and then suffers a DUI within 10 years of the wet reckless conviction, the wet reckless will be treated as though it was a DUI prior. For example, a person is convicted of a wet reckless in 2010 and then suffers a DUI conviction in 2018, they are facing are facing a mandatory minimum of 96 hours in jail.

Other possible advantages of the wet reckless include a shorter probationary period, lower fines and fees, and a shorter DUI program. I say possible because it depends on what the prosecutor offers as a sentence to the wet reckless reduction.

Lastly, a wet reckless conviction does not trigger the 6-month suspension with the DMV. The license will still be suspended, however, if the driver loses the DMV’s administrative per se action.

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Arrested for a DUI by Robocop

Friday, September 14th, 2018

Could it be that sometime in the future drunk drivers can be arrested by robotic law enforcement? If you’re anything like me, a product of the 80’s, you might be envisioning something like the Terminator, or Robocop. While we may be closer to automated law enforcement than some might think, it’s not as cool as what my imagination envisions.

Motorola has patented an autonomous car that may actually replace law enforcement in the fight against drunk driving.

Called the “Mobile law enforcement communication system and method,” the vehicle as described in Patent 10049419 is a “communication system, comprising: a self-driving vehicle within which to detain a detainee by law enforcement” that has the ability to make an arrest of a drunk driver, reads the drunk driver their Miranda Rights, determines who the driver’s attorney is, calls the driver’s attorney, communicates with a court regarding bail, and allows the drunk driver to swipe a credit card to post that bail.

Don’t believe me? See Patent 10049419 for yourself.

According to the developers, a self-driving vehicle will respond to a DUI stop where “the detained or arrested individual is placed into the self-driving vehicle for initial processing. Depending on the type of incident or alleged infraction, the individual may or may not remain handcuffed within the vehicle, but is detained within at least a portion of the vehicle throughout the process, such as a backseat area. [P]redetermined law enforcement processes and proceedings take place…using the autonomous vehicle’s communication system.

“Depending on the severity of the incident or alleged infraction, the processes and proceedings taking place within the self-driving vehicle may take the form of one or more of testing, booking, arraignment, and even full adjudication, if applicable. For example, the mobile communication system can be used as a mobile test hub for determining alcohol levels, drugs, and/or weapons. Sensors and scanners plugged in within the self-driving vehicle provide preliminary in-vehicle screening tools to help law enforcement officers assess a driver suspected of being drunk, carrying a dangerous or weapon, and predetermined drugs. As air sensors and scanners continue to evolve, the detained individual may simply remain within the vehicle while the tests are processed, analyzed, and results communicated to one or more appropriate recipients. Depending on the status of the detainee’s confinement, results may be communicated, over one or more wireless communications networks, to law enforcement, a remote attorney, and/or an on-call judge which may be contacted by the communication as part of the mobile processes and proceedings.”

Should this ever come to fruition in my lifetime, I’m not sure how I feel about it considering I still use a pin-on-the-wall calendar to keep track of my upcoming events rather than my smartphone. I can say, however, that it may be better than the subjective and often bias determinations made by the human law enforcement officers we deal with today.

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Has a Marijuana Breathalyzer Finally been Developed?

Friday, August 10th, 2018

As predicted, recreational marijuana is here in California. California joined Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia in legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. The trend of states in the expanding legalization of marijuana has had tech companies scrambling to become the first to develop a marijuana breathalyzer.

However, a California company has recently claimed to have cracked the code.

California Vehicle Code section 23152(e) makes it illegal to drive a vehicle while under the influence of drugs including marijuana. Unlike California’s DUI of alcohol law, there is no legal limit for marijuana, or more specifically, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the psychoactive component of marijuana. Therefore, a person can only be arrested and convicted of a marijuana DUI if the ingestion of marijuana impairs a person’s ability to drive a vehicle as a sober person would under similar circumstances.

To prove that a person is driving under the influence of marijuana, a prosecutor can use officer observations of driving patterns, observations during the traffic stop, performance on field sobriety tests, and the presence of THC in any blood test done.

Although THC can be detected in quantities of nanograms per milliliter of blood, the quantification is unlike alcohol in that the degree of impairment is unrelated to the amount of THC in a person’s blood. With alcohol, there is a fairly accurate correlation between a person’s blood alcohol content and how impaired they are. Therefore, unlike alcohol where prosecutors only need to prove that a person’s BAC was above a 0.08 percent, with marijuana, prosecutors can only prove that a person was “under the influence.”

Since “under the influence” is an extremely subjective standard, it is often very difficult to prosecute DUI of marijuana cases. This is especially true if the driver refused to perform the field sobriety tests and/or the officer did not observe driving that would be indicative of someone who is under the influence of marijuana.

Hound Labs, located in Oakland, California, is hoping to bridge the gap for officers and prosecutors.

“We are trying to make the establishment of impairment around marijuana rational and to balance fairness and safety,” said Hound Labs CEO Mike Lynn.

The company is claiming that it has developed a breathalyzer that can detect whether a subject has ingested marijuana in the last two hours, which many to consider the peak time for marijuana impairment after ingestion.

“When you find THC in breath, you can be pretty darn sure that somebody smoked pot in the last couple of hours,” Lynn says. “And we don’t want to have people driving during that time period or, frankly, at a work site in a construction zone.”

If accurate, Hound Labs would be the closest to developing this type of technology. However, thus far, no company has yet developed a machine to detect actual impairment.

According to Lynn, law enforcement are trying to determine who is impaired as opposed to “”somebody who smoked maybe yesterday or a few days ago and is not impaired. They’re not in the business of arresting people that are not impaired when it comes to marijuana. That makes no sense at all.”

Several law enforcement agencies will begin testing Hound Lab’s breathalyzer this fall. “They’re interested in it providing objective data for them at the roadside,” says Lynn. “That’s really the key, objective data at the roadside — just like we have for alcohol.”

For those of you who think that it is safe to smoke some marijuana and get behind the wheel, be aware that law enforcement could be out with a new roadside tool at their disposal to confirm that you have smoked within two hours, that is if Hound Labs’s new device does that it claims it can do.

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California’s Least Known DUI Law: Driving While Addicted

Friday, June 29th, 2018

The most widely known California DUI law is Vehicle Code section 23152(b) which makes it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher. Some people realize that if a person is arrested for a DUI, they will likely also be charged with Vehicle Code section 23152(a) which makes it illegal to drive “under the influence,” meaning that the driver cannot drive as a reasonable sober person would. Very few people, however, are aware of one of California’s more obscure DUI laws; driving while addicted.

Under California Vehicle Code section 23152(c), “[i]t is unlawful for any person who is addicted to the use of any drug to drive a vehicle.”

The purpose of DUI law is to protect the public from drivers who, at the time of driving, are under the influence. So you may be asking yourself the same question that I asked myself the first time I learned of this law: If an addict is not under the influence at the time of driving, how can they still be prosecuted for a DUI? Shouldn’t the law only punish drivers who actually pose a risk to the roads because of current intoxication?

In the 1965 case of People v. O’Neil, the California Supreme Court upheld the law and explained that it, like the other, better-known DUI laws, also protects the public.

In looking at the legislative intent in drafting the law, the court concluded, “when an individual has reached the point that his body reacts physically to the termination of drug administration, he has become ‘addicted’ within the meaning and purpose of [23152(c)]. Although physical dependency or the abstinence syndrome is but one of the characteristics of addiction, it is of crucial import in light of the purpose of [23152(c)] since it renders the individual a potential danger on the highway.”

In other words, the court concluded that a person who is an addict and going through withdrawals can be a danger to the roads. This conclusion presumes that all addicts at all times go through withdrawals and can still be arrested, charged, and convicted of a California DUI. While this presumption is false because not all addicts are always suffering from withdrawals, the California Supreme Court went on to say prosecutors, however, do not need to prove that the driver was suffering from withdrawals at the time of arrest.

“The prosecution need not prove that the individual was actually in a state of withdrawal while driving the vehicle. The prosecution’s burden is to show (1) that the defendant has become ‘emotionally dependent’ on the drug in the sense that he experiences a compulsive need to continue its use, (2) that he has developed a ‘tolerance’ to its effects and hence requires larger and more potent doses, and (3) that he has become ‘physically dependent’ so as to suffer withdrawal symptoms if he is deprived of his dosage.”

If you ask me, the California Supreme Court is contradicting itself. In essence, it is saying that the purpose of the law is to protect the public from addicts who are suffering from withdrawal symptoms while driving, yet it doesn’t require that the addict be suffering from the withdrawal symptoms at the time of driving.

Although this section of the vehicle code is rarely enforced, law enforcement and prosecutors can continue to punish drivers who are addicted to a drug even though they may not be, at the time of driving, under the influence of a drug.

So, again I ask, “Shouldn’t DUI law punish people who actually pose a risk to the public?” Apparently, according to the California Supreme Court, the answer is no.

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