At Orange County DUI Defense Lawyer, we specialize in representing DUI criminal charges and cases in Orange County. We understand what is on the line when you get arrested for DUI. You may lose your job, driver's license, face hefty fines, among other consequences.

A DUI prosecutor will usually try to achieve a DUI conviction against drivers who are alleged to be driving under intoxication. As a result, the prosecutor may press multiple DUI charges to increase the possibilities of a conviction. Therefore, we conduct thorough investigations on your alleged crime and prepare a strong defense strategy to help fight your charges and possibly reduce the charges or get a dismissal. 

What is Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in California?

Under California DUI laws, it is illegal for drivers to drive while intoxicated or with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher. A motorist is said to be under the influence if they are considerably affected by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both.

The law is even more stringent on commercial drivers arrested for driving with a DUI of 0.04% or higher. Additionally, the state of California has a zero tolerance law that prohibits motorists below 21 years of age (underage drivers) to operate a car with a BAC of 0.01% or higher.

DUI penalties vary depending on the circumstances of the case and the number of previous convictions a defendant has. Under DUI laws, a conviction will be on your criminal record and count as a previous conviction for ten years.

In determining the right sentence, the court will consider several aggravating circumstances such as

  • Having a minor below fourteen years in the car at the time of the arrest

  • Driving under the influence involving death or injury to at least one victim; there is an additional one year to your sentence for every injured victim

  • You could pay double fines for DUI in construction zones, maintenance zones, and safety enhancement zones

  • Driving with 20mph or 30mph over the limit on a highway or freeway respectively at the time of arrest leads to an additional sixty days to your jail term.

Understanding Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

DUI in California is based on your blood alcohol concentration. The amount of alcohol a driver must consume to reach the unlawful limits depends on factors such as:

  • Body size,

  • Gender,

  • Strength and number of drinks consumed,

  • When the alcohol was consumed,

  • Medical conditions that can affect how a motorist's body metabolizes alcohol, and

  • Whether the motorist has taken food.

First-time DUI Offense

If you have been arrested for drunk driving, you could be convicted of:

  1. Vehicle Code 23152 (a), which prohibits a driver from driving a vehicle while drunk, and

  2. Vehicle Code 23152 (b), which makes it illegal to operate a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08% or greater.

What are the Penalties for First DUI Conviction?

A first-time DUI conviction is a misdemeanor with the following penalties:

  • Three (3) to five (5) years of summary probation,

  • A mandatory DUI school for three to nine months,

  • $1,500 to $2,000 in penalty assessments and fines,

  • Withdrawal of driving privileges for six months,

  • Up to six months sentence, and

  • Installation of ignition interlock device (IID) in the defendant's car for six months.

Sometimes the court may order probation. That means you will spend reduced or no jail term. However, the court will order the DUI probation conditions below.

  • You should not drive a car with any measurable amount of alcohol in your system,

  • You shouldn't refuse to submit to a chemical test,

  • You should install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle for six months, and

  • You should not violate any law.

You could have your probation revoked if you break any of the above conditions. The court will then reinstate a sentence which will include a jail term.

Second DUI Offense

A DUI is well-thought-to be a second driving under the influence offense if you have one previous DUI conviction that took place within ten years. A second DUI offense is a misdemeanor. Typically, it is punishable by:

  • Three (3) to five (5) years of informal probation,

  • Up to a one-year sentence in county jail,

  • Fines that range from $390 to $1,000 plus $1,000 in penalty assessments,

  • Mandatory 18-months in court-approved DUI school,

  • IID installation for one year, and

  • Suspension of your driver's license for 12 months.

What to Expect After being Charged with a Third-time DUI Offense

It is important to note that a third-time DUI conviction in California carries harsher penalties than a first-time and second DUI. The conviction leads to:

  • Summary probation for three (3) to five (5) years,

  • Up to a one-year sentence in jail,

  • A maximum of $3,000 in penalty assessments and fines,

  • Installation of IID for two years,

  • Attending a mandatory DUI school of thirty months, and

  • Revocation of your driver's license for three years.

Fourth DUI Offense

A fourth DUI offense is usually a felony. However, the prosecution team has the option to charge you with a misdemeanor. Before the prosecutor charges you with a felony, they should present evidence that you had three previous DUI convictions or any other alcohol-related crime within the past ten years. This includes a conviction of either:

  1. Driving while intoxicated,

  2. Driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher,

  3. Wet reckless,

  4. An out-of-state conviction that qualifies as a conviction of any offense listed above or

  5. An expunged conviction for any of the crimes listed above.

What are the Penalties for a Fourth-time DUI?

  • 16 months, two years or three years sentence in jail,

  • A fine that ranges between $390 and $1,000,

  • Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) status for three years, and

  • A revocation of a driver's license for four years.

However, under Senate Bill 1046 (2018), you can continue driving provided that you keep the IID installed in your car for three years.

Underage DUI

Two laws apply to minor drivers who are 21 years or less. They include:

Vehicle Code 23136 VC

VC 23136 is a zero-tolerance law that makes it illegal for underage drivers to drive a vehicle with a BAC of 0.01% or more. It goes ahead to apply to all medicines and beverages with alcohol.

Also, you break this law by having any measurable alcohol in your blood. That means the law applies irrespective of whether your driving is impaired by alcohol or not.

Violation of VC 23136 for the first time leads to one year suspension of your driver's license.  Moreover, if you have a history of breaking this law, you risk having your license revoked for two (2) to three (3) years.

Vehicle Code 23140 VC

Under VC 23140, it is illegal for motorists below 21 years of age to operate a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.005% or more. Usually, after the arrest, the BAC is confirmed by the post-arrest DUI chemical test, which is either a breath test or a blood test.

Violation of this law is an infraction, which is a low-level crime and does not lead to a sentence. A first-time offense is punishable by:

  • Withdrawal of driving privileges for a year,

  • A compulsory DUI school for at least three months if you above 18 years of age, and

  • $100 in fines.

  • Actual Impairment (Vehicle Code 23152 VC)

You could be convicted of adult (standard) DUI if you are driving a car while drunk or with a BAC higher than 0.08%. It is a California misdemeanor, and if nobody is hurt, you will face the consequences for the first-time DUI offense discussed earlier.

DUI Causing Injury

Under Vehicle Code 23153 VC, DUI causing injury is drunk driving and inflicting bodily harm to somebody else as a result. To convict you of the offense in question, the prosecutor should prove that:

  • You were breaking DUI laws,

  • While violating the law, you negligently acted as you drove or violated another law, and

  • Your negligence or illegal act injured somebody else.

Penalties for DUI with injury

Like every DUI law, penalties for a DUI causing injury conviction vary depending on your criminal history and the circumstances of the case.

Also, it's worth bearing in mind that a third-time DUI causing injury is a felony. This is different from a non-injury DUI under VC 23152.

A California misdemeanor DUI conviction carries:

  • Informal probation for 3 to 5 years,

  • A minimum of five days and a maximum of a year in jail,

  • A fine that is between $390 and $5,000,

  • Completion of a DUI school which is a three, nine, eighteen or thirty-month alcohol education program,

  • Restitution to all injured persons, and

  • Suspension of your driver's license for one to three years.

A felony conviction, on the other hand, is punishable by:

  • Two (2), three (3) or four (4) years in California state prison,

  • A consecutive and additional three (3) to six (6) years in prison for every victim with severe bodily injury,

  • A fine that ranges between $1,015 and $5,000,

  • Attending an eighteen to thirty-month California DUI school,

  • An HTO status for three years,

  • Revocation of your driver's license for five years, and

  • A strike in accordance with the Three Strikes Law.

DUI Murder

Also known as Watson murder, DUI murder is a type of second-degree murder. It is charged when a defendant with a previous DUI conviction causes death while driving while intoxicated.

To convict you of Watson murder, the prosecutor should present evidence that you acted with implied malice. That means it doesn't require an intention to kill the victim. Instead, you act with implied malice when:

  • You intentionally commit DUI offense,

  • The probable and natural consequences of DUI are unsafe to human life,

  • At the time you acted you knew DUI is dangerous to human life, and

  • You deliberately acted with conscious contempt for human life.

It is hard for the prosecution team to prove that you acted with conscious contempt for human life. As a result, the prosecutor will file DUI murder charges only when:

    1. You have a previous DUI conviction, or

You attended DUI school or read about "Watson admonition" in relation to your previous offenses.

A Watson admonition is a warning issued to all motorists accused of DUI in California. It discusses how DUI is hazardous to human life as well as outlines possible consequences.

Are there Factors that can Increase the Likelihood of a Watson Murder Charge?

The court is more likely to convict you of DUI murder when you:

  • Have a BAC of more than 0.15%,

  • Have multiple previous DUI convictions, or

  • Engaged in a reckless driving practice like excessive speed, speed contest, or felony reckless evading of a law enforcement officer.

Punishment, Penalties, and Sentence Options for Watson Murder

Second-degree Watson murder in California carries fifteen years to life imprisonment in state prison, $10,000 in fines and a strike on your record in under Three Strikes Law.

A strike results in a doubled prison time for any subsequent offense you commit. Moreover, if you have two or more strikes and commits another felony, you could receive a mandatory twenty-five-year sentence or life imprisonment.

Also, you could face an additional sentence in prison if there are victims who survived the accident. The additional sentence is as follows:

  • Three to six years for every victim with severe bodily injury and

  • One to three years for every person who suffered less severe injuries.

DMV Hearings in California DUI Cases

If you have been arrested for drunk driving in California, you will face a criminal charge in court as well as a Department of Motor Vehicles hearing. Unlike a criminal charge, a DMV hearing is an administrative procedure that handles your driver's license. In other words, the DMV can't sentence you but can withdraw your driving privileges. 

After your arrest, the arresting police will confiscate your driving license and issue you with a Notice of Suspension. The notice serves as a driver's license for only thirty days. Additionally, it notifies you that you have a right to a California DMV hearing to stop your driver's license suspension.

You should request the DMV hearing within ten days of your arrest. Failure to request a hearing within the ten-day window, you risk having your license suspended automatically after the thirty days.

At some point, you could reinstate your driving privileges once you:

  • Install the IID in your vehicle,

  • Enroll in DUI school,

  • Submit an SR-22 insurance form, and

  • Pay reinstatement fee ($125).

To schedule your DMV hearing, you should contact your nearby DMV driver safety branch office within ten days after the arrest. It is worth noting these offices are not the conventional offices where you register your car or get the license.

What are Your Rights at a California DMV hearing?

California DMV hearings for DUI are more flexible than criminal charges in court. This is because the burden of proof can be satisfied easily in a Department of Motor Vehicles hearing than in a court trial. Also, the hearing can be conducted in an office or sometimes via the phone.

Despite all this informality, a defendant has a right at the DMV hearing to a lawyer at their expense. That means, different from a criminal court proceeding, the Department of Motor Vehicles will not appoint a lawyer for you if you are not in a position to afford one.

Moreover, you have a right to:

  • Analyze and challenge evidence,

  • Summon and present witnesses and the arresting police, and

  • Testify on your behalf.

What Happens When you Win the DMV DUI Hearing?

If you win the DMV hearing and the DMV hearing officer sets aside your charge, your driving privileges will be restored. It also means you could get a better deal during your plea bargain negotiation for your criminal case.

However, since the DUI criminal trial and DMV hearing are two different proceedings, winning a DMV hearing doesn't mean you have won the court proceedings since the prosecution team could have strong evidence against you.

Also, if you're finally convicted of DUI, the court has the power to suspend or revoke your driver's license. That's why it is important to have an experienced lawyer who will help you win both proceedings.

What Happens if You Lose Your DMV Hearing?

Even after you lose the DMV hearing, your DUI lawyer should continue asking the prosecution team to provide you with a lesser plea.

However, your driver's license revocation or suspension will go into effect immediately you lose the hearing. The circumstances and duration of restriction will depend on whether it's a first or subsequent offense.

The Relationship Between Out-of-State Motorists and DMV Hearing

If you're arrested for DUI in California, and you are not a California resident, you should schedule your hearing just like the residents. Your DUI attorney could appear by telephone or in person on your behalf.

In most cases, having your license suspended in the State of California will affect your license in your home state. This is because most states are members of the Interstate Drivers License Compact (DLC). 

How to Fight DUI Charges in California

Any qualified criminal defense lawyer will tell you that driving under the influence doesn't always mean a DUI conviction. You could avoid life-altering consequences such as huge fines, withdrawal of your driving privileges, and jail time by using a strong legal defense strategy. Discussed below are legal defenses your attorney could use:

Objective Symptoms of Drunkenness is Different from DUI

One of the effective ways to beat DUI charges is challenging the prosecutor's use of symptoms of intoxication to prove that you were drunk. Your physical appearance plays a huge role in the investigation. This is because the arresting police officer will undoubtedly testify that you were intoxicated because you have a slurred speed, unstable gait, flushed face, and red, watery eyes.

A competent attorney could argue that a cold, fatigue, eye irritation, or allergies resulted in those signs.

Wrong Driving Pattern Does not Always Mean you were Driving while Drunk

Your driving pattern is one of the main things a prosecutor will pay attention to in your DUI case. The arresting police will testify that you were driving the car in a way consistent with a person under the influence. This includes weaving within the lane or over-speeding allegations.

Any experienced DUI attorney will ask the testifying police to highlight all the ways that you drove safely and with caution. The lawyer will then argue that most of the traffic offenses are committed by sober drivers as well as driving patterns is an unreliable DUI predictor.

The Arresting Officer Didn't Conduct a Fifteen-Minute Observation Period

The arresting police officer should observe you for at least fifteen minutes before conducting the DUI breath test. Many police officers don't conduct the observation period. Rather, they do paperwork and set up the breath test device. Successfully showing that the arresting police did not perform the observation, challenges not only breath test results but also the whole DUI case.

The Arresting Police did not Adhere to Title 17 Regulations on Chemical Test

California Code of Regulations Title 17 outlines how chemical tests should be performed. It has requirements such as:

  • Adequate training for police officers conducting the breath and blood tests,

  • Proper chemical tests administration,

  • Regular maintenance and calibration of the testing equipment, and

  • Proper collection, storage, and handling of blood samples.

If any of the above requirements isn't strictly observed, your chemical test results will be tainted. Your lawyer could use failure to comply with any of these regulations to challenge the whole DUI investigation as well as successfully defend you against the charges.

Finding an Experienced Orange County DUI Attorney Near Me

DUI criminal charges are complicated, and you are likely to have numerous questions following your arrest. Will I lose my job? Will my driver's license be suspended? What will happen at the California DMV DUI hearing? That is why it is crucial to have a competent attorney in Orange County by your side. At Orange County DUI Defense Lawyer, our DUI lawyers will answer all your questions, discuss with you your rights and use their experience to get the best outcome possible. Nevertheless, it is wise to contact us promptly since most legal defenses are time sensitive. To learn more about possible strategies and legal defenses for your DUI case, call us at 714-820-9592 for a free initial consultation.

If you have been arrested for a DUI in Los Angeles I recommend you call this law firm: Los Angeles DUI Lawyer