Facing a DUI charge in California can result in significant consequences. Before you face conviction, you undergo various DUI stages, from the initial traffic stop to court appearances and sentencing. Understanding the stages is crucial to protecting your rights and securing a favorable outcome.
Whether you are facing an administrative hearing at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or preparing for a court trial, this guide teaches you how to navigate the process confidently.
At the Koenig Law Office, we are dedicated to defending your rights and ensuring your voice is heard throughout the DUI process. Contact us today if you need expert legal assistance for your DUI case in Bakersfield.
The DUI Investigation in California
The California DUI investigation begins when a police officer stops you for a traffic violation or erratic driving behavior. The officer will assess your behavior, looking for signs of impairment such as:
- Odor of alcohol.
- Objective signs of intoxication such as red-bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, unsteady gait, and a flushed face.
- Erratic driving patterns such as swerving, speeding, or failing to maintain lane position.
If the officer suspects you are under the influence, they may request that you perform standardized field sobriety tests (FSTs). These tests are designed to assess your coordination, balance, and cognitive function, providing evidence of impairment. These include:
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN). This test involves following a moving object with your eyes, like a pen or finger.
- Walk and turn. This test assesses your ability to walk a straight line, turn, and maintain your balance.
- One-leg stand. This test requires you to stand on one leg for a specific duration, with difficulty maintaining balance, suggesting impairment.
The officer may also administer a preliminary breath test known as a PAS test. This roadside test provides an estimation of your blood alcohol content (BAC) level. While not as accurate as a breath or blood test, a high PAS reading can be used as evidence of intoxication.
Based on their observations, FST results, and PAS readings, the officer may arrest you for DUI. They will inform you of your rights and take you into custody.
DUI Arrest in California
After your arrest, the officer will take you to a designated location for a blood or breath test to measure your BAC.
During a breath test, a breathalyzer machine analyzes your breath to estimate your BAC. If the result shows a BAC of 0.08% or higher, you will likely face additional charges for violating Vehicle Code 23152 b.
This test is typically administered if the officer suspects drug use or if you are injured and cannot provide a proper breath sample.
Refusing a chemical test is a separate offense, regardless of your actual BAC level. The consequences include:
- A mandatory one-year driver's license suspension.
- Two-day mandatory jail sentence, regardless of any other penalties imposed.
- Refusal serves as an aggravating factor, potentially leading to harsher sentencing if you are convicted of DUI.
Once the tests are complete, the authorities will book you and process your arrest. Depending on the circumstances, you may be released if you post bail or sign a promise to appear. Posting bail involves paying a set amount of money to the court as a guarantee that you will appear in court for future proceedings. Again, signing a promise to appear is a legal document promising your appearance in court on the assigned date.
The arresting officer will prepare a police report detailing the events leading to your arrest, including observations, test results, and witness statements. This report is then submitted to the local prosecuting agency for review.
The prosecutor may decide not to file charges against you based on insufficient evidence or other mitigating factors. However, if the prosecutor believes they have enough evidence, they will formally charge you with a California DUI. You will receive a notice of these charges and the scheduled court date.
Finding a California DUI Attorney
The California legal system is complex, and navigating it alone can significantly disadvantage your case. To maximize your chances of a favorable outcome, choose the right legal representation.
While theoretically possible, representing yourself in a DUI case is rarely advisable. Prosecutors and judges are experienced professionals, and without the expertise of an attorney, you are at a significant disadvantage. Representing yourself increases the risk of:
- Incorrect legal procedures
- Inadequate defense strategy. Lacking legal knowledge and experience makes it difficult to build a strong defense and effectively present your case.
- Unfavorable outcomes like harsher penalties, including maximum fines, jail time, and license suspension.
If your income or assets fall below certain thresholds, you may qualify for a public defender. While public defenders are experienced legal professionals, they could compromise your case because they:
- Handle a high caseload, limiting the time and attention they can dedicate to your case.
- They may lack specialization in DUI law as they handle a diverse range of cases, and their expertise in DUI defense may be limited.
- They may not have access to resources due to limited resources compared to private firms.
Private DUI Attorneys
Hiring a private attorney specializing in DUI defense offers several advantages, including:
- They have specialized knowledge and experience. They understand DUI laws, procedures, and successful defense strategies.
- Dedicated attention to your case due to fewer cases, allowing them to devote personalized attention and resources to your case.
- Skilled attorneys can negotiate effectively with prosecutors to achieve favorable plea bargains and reduced charges.
- Private attorneys actively keep up with the latest changes in DUI laws and case precedents to maximize their defense strategy.
- Private firms often have access to resources such as expert witnesses and investigators, enhancing your case's strength.
Finding the right attorney is vital. You want to look for someone with:
- A proven track record of success in handling DUI cases.
- Positive client reviews online.
- Accessibility and responsiveness when answering your questions and addressing your concerns throughout the process.
- A clear communication style to ensure you can understand their explanations and feel comfortable discussing your case openly.
Investing in experienced legal representation can be the difference between facing harsh penalties and securing a more favorable resolution.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles
Following a DUI arrest in California, your driver's license faces potential suspension. However, you have the right to challenge this action through the DMV hearing process. Upon arrest, the officer will confiscate your driver's license and issue a temporary one valid for 30 days. This temporary license allows you to drive while the DMV reviews your case. However, your actual license faces automatic suspension after 30 days unless you actively request a hearing.
To challenge the suspension, you must file a formal request for a DMV hearing within ten days of the arrest. The DMV hearing is not a formal court hearing but a quasi-legal proceeding conducted at a DMV office. This means the rules of evidence are less stringent, but you still have the right to present your case and challenge the evidence against you.
The DMV hearing allows you to:
- Contest the arresting officer's report by questioning the validity of the arrest, the accuracy of the officer's observations, or the results of any chemical tests.
- Present mitigating factors. You can introduce evidence of extenuating circumstances that may influence the hearing officer's decision, such as medical conditions or personal situations.
- Challenge the legality of the stop. If the officer stopped you without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, you can argue that the subsequent arrest and license suspension are invalid.
Based on the evidence presented and the arguments heard, the DMV hearing officer will issue a verdict. If the officer rules in your favor, your driver's license will not be suspended. If you lose the hearing, the DMV will enforce the suspension, which can last from four months to three years, depending on your prior DUI history and whether you refused a chemical test.
The DUI Court Process
While the entire DUI court process plays a significant role in determining an individual's case, certain steps hold more weight and influence the outcome than others. The steps include:
The arraignment marks the beginning of the California DUI criminal court process. During the first appearance, the judge will:
- Inform you of the charges against you.
- Ask you to enter a plea (guilty, not guilty, or no contest). This initial plea indicates your stance on the charges and determines the direction of your case.
- Guilty Plea - If you plead guilty, you acknowledge your responsibility for the DUI offense. This waives your right to a trial and leads directly to the sentencing phase.
- Not Guilty Plea - By pleading not guilty, you deny the charges against you. This triggers the pre-trial phase, where evidence is gathered, motions are filed, and potential plea bargains are explored.
- No Contest Plea - This plea states that you will not contest the charges but do not admit guilt. It can be used strategically in certain situations.
- Set bail amount or release you on your own recognizance (OR).
- Schedule future court dates. The judge will schedule future court hearings, including pre-trial conferences, motion hearings, and potentially a trial date.
DUI Pretrial Motions And Plea Bargains
During pretrial motions, your attorney will investigate the case, gather evidence, and identify potential legal issues. The prosecutor and your attorney meet to:
- Challenge the validity of the stop and arrest. Your attorney may file a "probable cause motion," arguing that the officer lacked sufficient justification for initiating the stop or arrest.
- Discuss potential plea bargains.
- File motions to suppress evidence or dismiss the case. If evidence obtained illegally or unfairly prejudices your case, your attorney can file a motion to suppress, preventing the prosecution from using it in court.
- Discredit the officer. A "pitchess motion" allows access to the officer's complaint history, potentially revealing patterns of misconduct or bias that could weaken their credibility as a witness.
- Exchange discovery materials.
Plea bargaining is an attempt to resolve your case outside of a trial through negotiation with the prosecutor. Your attorney will leverage your strengths and weaknesses in the case to negotiate a favorable outcome, which could involve:
- Reduced charges - Pleading guilty to a lesser offense, such as "wet reckless" or "dry reckless" instead of a DUI, which carries less severe penalties.
- Recommendation for alternative sentencing - Negotiating for options like probation, community service, or alcohol treatment programs instead of jail time.
- Reduced fines - Bargaining for a lower fine amount to minimize the financial impact of the case.
Plea bargaining can offer a faster and more predictable resolution compared to going to trial. However, it is crucial to carefully consider the potential consequences of any proposed deal before agreeing. Your attorney will guide you through this process, ensuring you understand the terms and implications of any plea agreement before making a decision.
This quasi-legal proceeding allows you to challenge the automatic suspension of your driver's license. A favorable outcome can prevent suspension, while an unfavorable one results in a period of license inactivity, depending on your driving history and refusal of chemical tests.
Throughout the pretrial stage, your attorney may file motions to:
- Challenge the legality of the stop, arrest, or collection of evidence.
- Argue that the prosecution lacks sufficient evidence or that there are legal grounds for dismissal.
- Negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce the charges against you.
The DUI Jury Trial
While most California DUI cases settle before reaching trial, some situations require a jury trial to determine guilt or innocence. Understanding the various phases and complexities involved in a DUI trial is crucial for making informed decisions about your case.
- Jury Selection. Both attorneys question potential jurors to identify unbiased individuals qualified to hear your case. This process ensures a fair and impartial jury.
- Opening Statements. Both the prosecution and defense present their opening statements, outlining their respective positions and previewing the evidence they will present.
- Prosecution's Case. The prosecution has the burden of proof and will present evidence, such as the police report, witness testimonies, and chemical test results, to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed a DUI.
- Defense Case. Your attorney has the opportunity to present evidence and arguments that challenge the prosecution's case, raise doubts about their evidence, and present mitigating factors that may influence the jury's decision.
- Closing Statements. Both attorneys present closing arguments, summarizing their key points and urging the jury to reach a verdict in their favor.
- Jury Deliberations. The jury deliberates in private, discussing the evidence and arguments presented throughout the trial.
- The jury returns a verdict of guilty or not guilty. A unanimous verdict is required to convict you.
- If convicted, you will face sentencing by the judge, which may include penalties such as jail time, fines, suspension of your driver's license, and alcohol education programs.
Defending Against DUI Charges
If you are facing a DUI charge in California, you have legal rights and options to defend yourself. Below are legal defenses you could use:
Lack of Probable Cause for Stop/Arrest
If the arresting officer lacked sufficient justification for pulling you over or detaining you, your attorney can challenge the entire case on the grounds of "lack of probable cause." If the court finds the initial stop unlawful, any evidence collected subsequently, such as breathalyzer tests or witness testimonies, may be deemed inadmissible and effectively thrown out, significantly weakening the prosecution's ability to prove your guilt.
Errors in Chemical or Field Sobriety Tests
Your attorney can scrutinize the testing procedures, questioning the calibration of equipment, the officer's proper administration of the tests, and even their training and qualifications. Should any inconsistencies or errors be unearthed, the reliability of these tests as evidence of your intoxication crumbles, potentially weakening the prosecution's case and casting doubt on their claim of impairment. Demonstrating potential flaws could lead to a more favorable outcome for you.
Not Under the Influence
Your attorney will gather evidence to paint a picture of your sobriety, potentially including witness testimonies that contradict the officer's observations, alternative explanations for your behavior that could have mimicked intoxication symptoms, or even evidence challenging the validity of the officer's conclusions about your impairment level.
By building a case that raises reasonable doubt about your intoxication, your attorney can convince the court or jury to acquit you, securing a favorable outcome for your situation.
DUI Sentencing And Penalties
If you are convicted, you may face a range of penalties, depending on the severity of the offense and your prior DUI history. A first-time DUI is classified as a misdemeanor offense in California. You could be sentenced to fines, probation, and other penalties. The court may impose jail sentences of up to six months. The severity of the sentence will depend on various factors, including your blood alcohol content (BAC) and the presence of aggravating factors.
You will likely be placed on informal misdemeanor probation for 3 to 5 years. This generally requires regular meetings with a probation officer and compliance with all court-ordered conditions.
You will be mandated to complete a DUI school program, which typically lasts for 3 to 9 months. This program educates you about the dangers of drunk driving and helps you develop coping mechanisms to prevent future offenses.
Prepare to pay substantial fines and penalty assessments, amounting to roughly $1,500 to $2,000. These financial penalties can significantly impact your budget. Your driver's license will be suspended for a minimum of six months. This suspension can significantly disrupt your daily life and hinder your ability to work, run errands, and attend important appointments.
For six months, you will be required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in your vehicle. This device prevents you from starting your car if your breath alcohol content is above a pre-set limit.
Find a Criminal Lawyer Handling DUI Cases Near Me
Handling a DUI charge in California requires a comprehensive understanding of the legal process, from the initial investigation and arrest to the court trial and DMV hearings. Each stage carries its challenges and opportunities, so you need a legal presentation to navigate the justice system.
At Koenig Law Office, we understand your worries and are ready to walk with you through all the stages of DUI. Our experienced attorneys are dedicated to providing expert legal representation, ensuring your rights are protected, and handling your case with the utmost care and professionalism.
With our in-depth knowledge of California's DUI laws and a commitment to personalized legal service, we strive to secure the best possible outcome for our clients. If you are facing a DUI charge in Bakersfield, contact us at 661-793-7222 for a consultation.