A celebratory glass of champagne or a couple of drinks with old friends may seem like it won't have any impact on your life long-term. However, if you drive after drinking, you may be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) and could face significant consequences.What Classifies as a DUI in California?
The most common indicator of drunk driving that most people think of is blood alcohol concentration (BAC). In California, the threshold BAC for DUI charges is .08 percent. However, a BAC of .08 percent or higher isn't the only way you can be arrested and convicted of DUI. According to California Vehicle Code 23152 (a), driving under the influence of any alcoholic beverage, regardless of BAC, can classify as a misdemeanor.
So how is this standard applied? It is more subjective than a monitoring test that checks BAC, but there are still many ways a prosecutor will try to prove your actions qualify as DUI. William Kroger is a Los Angeles DUI lawyer with extensive experience building solid defensive strategies in DUI cases.Factors for Guilt in a DUI Case
If your BAC was unknown or registered as lower than .08, you might not be off the hook quite yet. You could still face charges for DUI if you can be proven to have met specific criteria:
- You consumed alcohol prior to driving;
- The alcohol that you drank affected your ability to drive; and
- You were driving a vehicle.
A prosecutor will attempt to prove that you were under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, but this is not always simple. For context, instructions provided to California jurors who sit on DUI cases state the definition of "under the influence" as:
A person is under the influence of an alcoholic beverage when, as a result of drinking such alcoholic beverage, his or her physical or mental abilities are impaired to such a degree that he or she no longer has the ability to drive a vehicle with the caution characteristic of a sober person of ordinary prudence under the same conditions.
Essentially, the prosecutor must prove that you drank enough alcohol that your ability to drive is lessened to the degree that you cannot exercise the caution of a sober person.
If no breath analysis or other testing were conducted, they would use different methods to prove that you were inebriated while driving. For instance, witnesses may be called to testify about events immediately prior to the traffic stop or arrest, such as anyone who witnessed strange behavior or saw you drinking before you got into your vehicle. The police officer who pulled you over can also give a statement as to your demeanor during the stop, as well as any hazardous or suspicious driving activity they witnessed prior to pulling you over.
In California, DUI cases also hinge on whether or not the inebriated person was actually driving a vehicle. States can have very different definitions of what it means to drive in the context of a DUI conviction. However, California's standard is that there must be evidence of at least "slight movement" of the vehicle. Any movement of the motor vehicle while behind the wheel could lead to a DUI arrest.
If you have questions about the specific circumstances of your case or would like to obtain legal representation for a Los Angeles DUI charge, Attorney William Kroger can provide dedicated and skilled legal counsel.Circumstantial Evidence in DUI Cases
It is important to note that the arresting officer does not need to witness the movement of your vehicle in order to charge you with a DUI in California. Circumstantial evidence is admissible, and police officers and prosecutors often rely on this to arrest you or get you convicted of DUI. Any factors that imply or suggest that you were driving can be used. If you are in an accident, simple things like how close the crash site was to the road or that you were the only one present at the vehicle could be circumstantial evidence to show you were driving.
There are situations in which circumstantial evidence could help your case. If you are found to be sitting behind the wheel of your vehicle, it may initially seem like you were driving. Consider the following examples for circumstantial evidence that could work in your favor:
- Your car keys are in your house, hotel room, or somewhere else away from you;
- Your car has a mechanical problem and won't start;
- Your parked vehicle is sitting on blocks, not tires, and it is immobile; or
- The driving path is blocked by another vehicle or something else that makes driving impossible.
Despite the fact that you were sitting in the driver's seat and were, in fact, intoxicated, other factors would likely show that you were not driving.Potential Penalties for California DUI
As with most other offenses, the severity of penalties will vary depending on a number of influencing factors. For example, property damage, injury, behavior during the stop, and having children in the vehicle can all affect the outcome of your case. One of the most common aspects of sentencing severity is prior convictions. When your charges are determined, any prior conviction for DUI within the last ten years will likely have an impact on your punishment.
Penalties can range from fines, driver's license suspension, and jail time. Los Angeles County also requires many DUI offenders to install an ignition interlock device after driving privileges are reinstated. You will want a DUI defense attorney like William Kroger, who has experience advocating for his clients in their Los Angeles DUI cases.First Offense
A first-time DUI offender in California could be faced with a jail sentence of up to six months or as little as 48 hours. Judges are typically lenient, often ordering probation for the first offense in lieu of any jail time. After your first DUI conviction, you may be forced to pay a $1,000 fine and have your driver's license suspended.
If your license is suspended, you could have the option to obtain a restricted license after the first 30 days of your suspension. Not everyone will qualify for this type of license, and in order to get one, you must first complete a number of things, including enrolling in DUI school and paying a fee to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). A restricted license is only to be used in limited circumstances; it does not provide the same driving freedom as a regular driver's license. Our legal experts can answer any questions you might have about your eligibility for a restricted license or any other aspect of your California DUI case.Second Offense
Once you become a repeat offender, your sentencing will not be as lenient. Second-offense DUI convictions carry a minimum jail sentence of 96 hours but can stretch up to one year. Judges do still have discretion in ordering penalties, and they may order you to serve your sentence under house arrest or an alternative work program as they see fit. A fine will likely be ordered, as well as a license suspension of up to two years. At that point, you could also be required to attend an 18- or 30-month driving school program once your suspension has ended.Third Offense
A third DUI conviction is a misdemeanor under California law, and it carries a jail sentence of anywhere between 120 days and one year. If the judge decides to give you probation and order attendance in a DUI school, then jail time may be reduced to 30 days. You can still expect a hefty fine upon conviction, as well as a longer suspension of your license of up to three years.Fourth and Further Offenses
Any fourth and beyond DUI offenses will be felony offenses, carrying much steeper punishments and potential damage to your criminal record. Felony DUI convictions can carry a prison term of as much as four years, as well as a fine and four-year revocation of your driving privileges.
It is important to keep in mind that charges and penalties are decided on a case-by-case basis, so certain factors exist that can change the type of charge you receive and the sentencing. For instance, if you caused serious injury or death while driving under the influence, you may be charged with a felony regardless of how many DUI arrests you have had in the past.Defenses in a California DUI Case
There are two major categories of defense that your California DUI defense attorney may use at trial when no chemical test results are present. Challenges to the traffic stop and challenges to the implication you were under the influence of alcohol are the most common defensive strategies.
California police officers must have a "reasonable suspicion" that a crime has been committed in order to detain you. If this suspicion did not exist at the time of your traffic stop, you might have been stopped illegally. In this situation, any evidence collected during the stop cannot be used against you. A skilled DUI defense attorney can challenge that evidence and move to have it excluded from the trial.
The other option is to focus on discrediting the prosecutor's claim that you were intoxicated. The burden of proof lies with the prosecutor. Therefore, if your attorney can convince a jury that you weren't drinking or show that there is no evidence that your ability to drive was affected, you may be acquitted of all charges.Hiring Qualified Legal Counsel for Your California DUI Case
Finding a trustworthy and skilled defense attorney is crucial to the success of fighting a DUI charge. William Kroger, Attorney at Law, has the experience you need and the track record you can count on when you are faced with a DUI case. Call William S. Kroger today at 323-655-5700 to schedule a free consultation.