How Long Does a DUI Case Take in California?
It can be frightening to be arrested for DUI in California. Once the worst has passed, you probably want to put it all behind you and move on with your life. However, you may wonder how long a DUI case can take in California. How long will it be before you can put this behind you?
How Long Do Police Officers Have to File DUI Charges in CA?
The statute of limitations for most misdemeanor DUI offenses is one year. The deadline for filing charges for most felony DUI offenses is three years.
However, some drunk driving offenses could have longer filing deadlines to bring charges. Offenses punishable by death have no deadlines. Also, criminal charges punishable by more than eight years in prison have a six year statute of limitations.
Therefore, the police officers or prosecutor could bring DUI charges months or years after the officers stop you for drunk driving.
What Is the DUI Process in California?
Understanding the DUI process can help explain how long your DUI case could take. While the process will differ in some cases, the steps below offer a general timeline for most DUI cases in California.
DUI Process – A Roadmap of How the Court & DMV Work
The time it takes to complete each of the following phases in a criminal case depends on many factors. Simple, straightforward cases tend to move faster. However, more complex cases involving injuries, deaths, and felony charges could move much slower.
We summarize each phase and then discuss the phases in more detail below.
1st PHASE: DUI Investigation in CA
If a police officer has reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime or even a traffic offense, they can pull you over. The officer could also be responding to a reported traffic accident.
Based on the officer’s observations, if they believe you are intoxicated, they generally begin a roadside DUI investigation. The officer will request that you take a preliminary alcohol screening (“PAS”), such as a breathalyzer or cheek swab. They may also ask you to perform field sobriety tests (“FSTs”). We discuss the DUI investigation in greater detail below.
2nd PHASE: DUI Arrest in CA
If the police officers believe they have probable cause for an arrest, they can arrest you for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. The DUI charge could be driving under the influence or driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over the legal limit.
3rd PHASE: Choosing to Hire your CA DUI Lawyer
Most people do not understand the DUI process, especially if this is a first time DUI offense. It could be the first time they have been arrested for a crime. Therefore, obtaining legal advice as soon as possible is in their best interest.
Attempting to represent yourself or “being your own lawyer” places you at a disadvantage when you are charged with a DUI in California. Prosecutors are trained, experienced attorneys who have the full resources of the state behind them. Unless you are also a lawyer, you likely do not have the knowledge of the judicial system or the resources to battle the prosecutor’s office. Even then, it is best to hire a lawyer who specializes in DUIs or criminal defense law. Experienced California DUI lawyers have the skills, resources, and experience to investigate and defend drunk driving charges.
If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, you can also apply for a public defender. Public defenders are court appointed lawyers who represent defendants in criminal court. However, most public defenders are inexperienced and overworked. Therefore, if you can afford to hire a private attorney to handle your case, it can protect you from being treated unfairly or having your legal rights violated during the DUI process.
4th PHASE: Your DUI and the DMV of CA
After your DUI arrest, the police officer takes your driver’s license and issues you a Notice of Suspension. You have 10 days to request a driver’s license suspension hearing with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
If you do not request the hearing, the DMV initiates an administrative license suspension after 30 days. The duration of the license suspension depends on your criminal history for DUI convictions and whether you refused a chemical test.
You have the right to legal counsel at the DMV hearing, and you should strongly consider hiring a California DUI attorney immediately. The hearing is held by a DMV officer who has the “evidence” against you. In other words, the hearing already leans heavily in favor of the DMV.
Three questions generally determine whether your license is suspended:
- Did the officer have probable cause to believe you were driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs?
- Were you lawfully arrested?
- Was your blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) over the legal limit?
If the DMV hearing officer finds all the above criteria true, you will lose your driving privileges for a specific period of time. The driver’s license suspension stands even if you beat the DUI charges, and it is an addition to any court-ordered driver’s license suspension or revocation.
Having an attorney represent you at the DMV hearing can make a difference. Your lawyer understands DUI laws and evidence. If the police officers made mistakes or committed any wrongdoing, your lawyer argues that at the hearing. Your attorney also understands the process for presenting evidence and witnesses and cross-examining the DMV witnesses.
5th PHASE: DUI Court Process in CA
The criminal case against you begins with your arraignment. If you do not have an attorney by your arraignment hearing, you can plead not guilty. Pleading not guilty allows you time to request a court appointed attorney or hire a private attorney to handle your DUI case.
6th PHASE: The DUI Arraignment Process
An arraignment is a short hearing. The parties present at an arraignment include you, your lawyer, the prosecutor, and the judge. First, the judge will read the criminal charges against you. If you have an attorney, your attorney may waive the reading of the charges to save time. Next, the judge explains your rights to you, such as your right to be represented by legal counsel. The court can appoint legal counsel for you if you cannot afford an attorney on your own. (Learn more about the benefits and costs of hiring an attorney at our recent blog post, here.)
The judge will then ask you to enter a plea. In most cases, your lawyer has you enter a plea of not guilty. Pleading not guilty allows your lawyer to request discovery documents from the prosecution. Through discovery, the prosecution will likely be required to disclose all evidence they have against you, including any information or documentation that could help prove your innocence. This information could include, but is not limited to:
- Copies of the police reports;
- Investigative notes by police officers;
- Results of the chemical tests, including breath tests, blood tests, and urine tests; and
- Maintenance records for the breathalyzer machines and blood testing instruments.
Obtaining the discovery documents allows your lawyer to begin developing a defense strategy.
The judge may also determine bail at the DUI arraignment. You might be released on your own recognizance (personal signature with no money), or you might be required to post a bond or bail to secure your release from jail.
7th PHASE: The CA DUI Defenses Most Commonly Used
The DUI defenses your lawyer may use depends on the facts and circumstances of your case. However, common California DUI defenses include:
- Challenging the results of chemical tests (blood and urine tests);
- Challenging the accuracy of the calculations used to determine BAC from a breath test;
- Lack of probable cause for a DUI arrest or reasonable suspicion for a DUI stop;
- Rising alcohol levels between the arrest and chemical testing;
- Residual mouth alcohol and medical conditions that could cause a falsely high BAC level on a breathalyzer test;
- The accuracy of and the method used for field sobriety tests;
- Title 17 violations related to the collection, testing, and storage of blood and urine;
- Violations in procedures that could have resulted in falsely high BAC levels; and
- The alcohol or drugs in your system did not impair your driving ability.
Experienced California DUI defense lawyers conduct thorough and comprehensive investigations to determine all potential defenses that could result in a dismissal or acquittal.
8th PHASE: The DUI Pre-Trial Motion and Plea Bargain Process
Before the DUI trial, the lawyers may file one or more pre-trial motions. The motions deal with questions of law and evidence. Examples include:
- Motion to Suppress evidence that was obtained illegally;
- Discovery motion to compel the prosecution to turn over evidence;
- Pitchess motion to examine an officer’s record to reveal misconduct;
- Motion to split a urine or blood sample for independent testing;
- Motion to dismiss the case based on a lack of evidence; and
- Probable cause hearing to challenge whether the arrest was lawful.
The court also holds a pre-trial conference. The pre-trial conference provides the court with the case status. The lawyers must tell the judge whether they are ready for trial, if they need to address any issues, and the status of any plea negotiations.
The most serious plea negotiations occur after the parties complete discovery. Your lawyer now understands the evidence against you, your defenses, and any weaknesses in either case. Using that information, your lawyer aggressively negotiates with the prosecutor for favorable terms for a plea deal.
Generally, defense lawyers negotiate for a reduction of criminal charges. For example, your lawyer may suggest dropping the DUI charge to a “wet reckless” or “dry reckless” charge. If the charge is a felony DUI, your lawyer might suggest dropping the charge to a misdemeanor.
In addition to charge reductions, the attorney negotiates for a reduced sentence. For example, no jail time if you complete probation or participate in a DUI program.
9th PHASE: DUIs and Jury Trials
If you cannot agree to a plea deal and your attorney suggests that a trial is your best option, the case is placed on the trial docket. When the case comes up for a trial, you can expect to go through the following steps:
- Selecting a jury;
- Final pre-trial motions;
- Opening statements by both sides;
- Prosecution’s case;
- Defense’s cases;
- Closing arguments by both sides;
- Jury deliberation; and
- Jury verdict.
If the jury acquits you of the charges, you are free to leave. However, if they find you guilty of drinking and driving, the judge proceeds with sentencing.
10th PHASE: Sentencing and Punishment for a DUI in CA
The punishment for DUI in California depends on several factors. Aggravating factors, past DUI convictions, the county in which you receive the DUI, and the facts of the case can increase the severity of your punishment. Potential DUI penalties include:
- Fines and assessments that could total thousands of dollars;
- Time spent in county jail or state prison;
- Restitution paid to the victims you injured driving while intoxicated;
- Three to five years of probation;
- Attending DUI school and other DUI programs;
- Community service and other probation requirements;
- Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID);
- Driver’s license suspension or revocation;
- A strike against the Three Strikes Law for a felony DUI conviction; and
- Designated as a Habitual Traffic Offender.
The collateral consequences of a DUI conviction generally include higher insurance premiums for at least three years. Additionally, you could lose your job or find it more difficult to find employment. In addition, some professional licenses could be suspended or revoked, and it could be more difficult to qualify for specific government benefits and student loans.
What Happens During a Typical California DUI Investigation?
The DUI investigation begins with a traffic stop. The police officer watches you for signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech, blurry or red eyes, fumbling, lack of coordination, a smell of alcohol, and a flushed face. Next, the officer asks questions, including whether you have been drinking or taking drugs and where you have been.
The officer asks you to take a preliminary alcohol screening (“PAS”) test, which is a roadside breathalyzer test or a cheek swab for drugs. Most drivers can refuse these tests without losing their driving privileges. However, underage drivers and individuals on probation who refuse PAS tests may lose their driving privileges for the refusal.
The police officer will also ask if you’d prefer to take field sobriety tests (“FSTs”). Again, you are not required to complete these tests. If the officer believes you are under the influence of drugs, they may call a Drug Recognition Expert (“DRE”) who takes over the investigation.
If the officer believes they have probable cause for an arrest, they can place you into custody and transport you to the police station or a medical facility for chemical testing.
What Happens After a California DUI Arrest?
California’s implied consent laws require drivers to take a chemical test after a lawful arrest. The officer should give you a choice between a breath or blood test. Urine tests are only used when blood or breath tests cannot be performed. Your refusal of a chemical test will result in an administrative license suspension by the DMV.
After the chemical tests, you are processed and booked into jail or released. The arresting offer completes and files the police report, which is submitted to the local prosecuting agency. Then, your case proceeds according to the DUI process guide discussed above.
What Are the Most Important DUI Court Proceedings in a Given Case?
Criminal cases may have numerous hearings. In DUI cases, the three most important court proceedings are the following:
- Pre-Trial Proceedings (i.e., discovery, plea negotiations, and pre-trial motions); and
- The jury trial.
At any point during these proceedings, your case could be dismissed. Experienced legal representation is the key to improving your chances of winning a DUI case. Your lawyer guides you through each phase of the DUI process, providing legal advice and counsel to help protect your rights and best interests.
Throughout each phase, your lawyer searches for evidence that can reduce or dismiss the charges. Only trained, experienced, and skilled legal minds see evidence that other people might miss.
How Long Can You Be in Jail For a DUI?
If you have a clean criminal record, took the chemical test, and have no aggravating factors, you might spend no time in jail or just a few days. However, past DUIs and sentence enhancements result in mandatory jail time. Felony DUI convictions could result in years in state prison.
Is Your License Suspended Immediately After a DUI?
As discussed above, the officer gives you a Notice of Suspension. You can drive for up to 30 days. However, the DMV suspends your license immediately after 30 days if you do not request a DMV hearing within 10 days.
How Long Does It Take for A DUI To Come Off Your Record in California?
DUIs and wet reckless convictions are offenses that will later count as “priors.” This means that they will count against you for new drunk driving offenses which occur within the next 10 years. Felony DUIs count against you for new drunk driving charges forever. Even if you have a DUI expunged, it still counts against you for future DUIs.
Hiring a California DUI Attorney
California has some of the most strict DUI laws and punishments for drunk driving in the United States. Representing yourself is never your best option. Many California DUI attorneys, such as the Law Offices of Taylor & Taylor offer free consultations. You can get answers to your questions and legal advice from a trusted legal advocate for individuals facing criminal allegations.
You should never go it alone when dealing with DUI charges. An experienced attorney can help you achieve far more positive consequences than are likely if you do not have the advice of legal counsel. If you’d like to learn more, you can speak a DUI Defense attorney today by reaching out to us at this link.
Interested in this topic and want to learn more? Check out our recent post on being charged with DUIs months later, and other related topics on our blog, which is updated regularly.
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