DUI in California

Judges Gavel imageAfter many new laws and Supreme Court decisions in recent years, the penalties for "drunk driving" no longer consist of just a slap on the wrist and an escort home. Today, penalties for a DUI can be more extreme than for many felony offenses. And the laws defining the offense, the related procedures and the evidence have grown incredibly complex and convoluted. As our firm's client comments reflect, facing the criminal and DMV license suspension procedures without the protection of an experienced DUI defense attorney is dangerous. And whether you need a Torrance DUI lawyer or a Newport Beach DUI attorney, the Law Offices of Lawrence Taylor is uniquely qualified to protect you.

The process typically begins with a citizen being pulled over for weaving or driving erratically, or perhaps with being stopped at a "sobriety checkpoint". After stopping the individual, the officer immediately begins to interrogate him. Without being given any right to an attorney, or even a Miranda warning, this individual is asked to make incriminating statements that can later be used against him. The officer may request a breath test be taken with a hand-held "PAS" (preliminary alcohol screening) device. Then, under already very stressful conditions, the individual is asked to take a series of "field sobriety tests"" -- physical exercises that are difficult for most of the general public to pass. In most cases, the officer will fail to inform this individual that these field sobriety tests are not required by law.

Once the arrest has been made, an evidentiary chemical test is required of the suspect, usually at the police station. Still without an attorney present, the individual must choose either a breath or blood test. If the arrested individual refuses to submit to testing, the law imposes an automatic one-year license suspension and an extended jail sentence. Breath tests are administered using some version of a breathalyzer which, unknown to the general public, are highly unreliable machines. Further, the officers administering the test are often inexperienced with the correct procedures. Nevertheless, the suspect's license will be immediately suspended if the breath test result is over .08%, if a blood sample is taken for later analysis, or if the suspect refuses chemical testing. The officer will then confiscate the driver's license and issue the arrestee a pink "Notice of Suspension" form, which also serves as a 30-day temporary license.

You should know that following a DUI suspect's booking and eventual release, the individual has two separate proceedings to deal with. First is the administrative license suspension hearing. Note: It is critical that the suspect, or preferably his lawyer, contact the DMV within 10 calendar days from the time of the arrest to schedule an administrative hearing. After 10 days, the individual forfeits his right to a hearing -- and any chance to have the suspension "set aside".

If a hearing is not demanded, or if it has been lost, there will be a license suspension of four months for a first offense. This suspension begins 30 days after the arrest or, if a hearing has been held and lost, upon notification by mail. For second time offenders (within the past 10 years), or if chemical testing was refused, the suspension will be one year.

While these suspensions can be successfully challenged by a qualified attorney, a hearing must be scheduled in the first place.

The second proceeding the individual must deal with in a California drunk driving case is the criminal prosecution in court. The suspect will be charged with two offenses and, surprisingly, can be convicted of both of them. The penalties are the same, however, and the individual can only be punished for one.

The first offense is driving under the influence of alcohol (and/or drugs), also known as DUI. The second is the so-called "per se" offense: driving with a blood-alcohol level above .08%. If the chemical testing was refused, and if police do not forcefully take a blood sample, there will be no evidence of blood-alcohol concentration and the "per se" offense will not be charged. However, the accused faces increased penalties on the DUI charges for refusing.

Again, the services of a qualified attorney is highly recommended. And although the criminal proceedings will most likely involve multiple court hearings, the defendant will generally not have to appear at most of them if he is properly represented.

It is unfortunate that many general criminal attorneys and general practitioners try to represent individuals facing drunk driving charges. The field is a very complex one, involving convoluted criminal and administrative laws, as well as chemical evidence with scientific issues of physiology, biochemistry, spectrophotometric and fuel cell chemical analysis, and electrical engineering. As non-specialized attorneys have very little, if any, training in the field, the outcome of the case is all too easily foreseeable. However, represented by a qualified attorney –g one who is experienced with DUI cases and specializes in the field – the individual faces these criminal and administrative DMV proceedings with considerably more confidence.

(Note: There are laws in place for operating a boat while intoxicated that are very similar to DUI charges. Please refer to "California DUI Boating: Boating Under the Influence of Alcohol" within this site.)

For further information, visit Mr. Taylor's popular DUIblog or his law firm staff attorney's DUI Defense Blog.

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