Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a severe offense in California. A drunk driver is likely not to focus on the road and can be a threat to other road users. This is why law enforcement authorities are strict concerning DUI.
You commit a DUI offense by operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content exceeding 0.08%. Also, an underage driver who drives with a BAC higher than 0.01% can be arrested and charged with DUI. A conviction for DUI attracts penalties in terms of jail time, fines, and probation. After an arrest, the Department of Motor Vehicles may suspend or revoke your driver’s license.
If you are facing DUI charges in Orange County, get in touch with us at the Orange County DUI Defense Lawyer. We serve clients throughout Orange County, CA, to ensure the best possible outcome in your DUI case.
Overview of 1st DUI Offense
A DUI case in California begins when you are stopped at a traffic stop, DUI checkpoint, or after an accident. Some of the factors that may compel a traffic officer to stop your car are:
- Excessive speeding
- Swerving from one lane to another
- Failing to yield the right way
After stopping, the officer will ask you to perform a series of activities that constitute a field sobriety test. These tests include walking on a straight line, standing on one leg, among others. However, taking the field sobriety test is optional. There are no legal measures taken on people who decline the tests. After performing the analysis, the officer will check the amount of alcohol in your breath by asking you to breathe in the handheld Breathalyzer device.
If your BAC from the Breathalyzer is 0.08%, you will be arrested and taken into custody, where a blood test will be done. BAC is the most reliable piece of evidence in a DUI case. Failure to submit to the chemical tests will trigger some legal consequences. This will include the enhancement of penalties after a conviction and mandatory suspension of your license.
After performing the BAC test, you will be booked into jail. Booking entails getting all your information and your mugshot. For a 1st DUI offense, you may be released after arrest and booking.
Legal Penalties for a 1st DUI Conviction in California
In California, a 1st DUI offense is often charged as a misdemeanor. Although the penalties you get after a DUI conviction vary from case to case, the following are legal penalties you are likely to receive for a 1st time DUI:
- Three to five years of misdemeanor probation
- Mandatory attendance to DUI school for a period ranging from three to nine months
- A six months court-triggered driver’s license suspension
- A six months jail sentence
- Inability to travel to Canada, unless you make special arrangements with Canadian immigration authorities
In some circumstances, your penalties for a 1st DUI may be enhanced. Aggravating factors that can increase the penalties of a 1st drunk driving conviction include:
- Driving with a BAC of 0.15% or higher
- Failure to submit to chemical tests at the time of the arrest
- You caused an accident while driving under the influence of alcohol
- Child endangerment, which entails driving under the influence of drugs with a child under 14 years in the vehicle
- Being a driver under the age of 21 years at the time of the offense
The enhanced penalties for your 1st DUI will depend on the circumstances of your case and the nature of your prior convictions.
Alternative Sentencing for a 1st DUI in California
There are alternative sentencing available for a 1st DUI offense as a substitution to jail time, including:
- Community service
- House arrest or electronic monitoring
- Mandatory residence in a sober living facility
Depending on your case, the court could change an expected jail time to probation. If you are sentenced on probation, you will spend little or no jail time for your 1st DUI offense. Mandatory conditions that you need to fulfill during probation include:
- You should not drive with a measurable blood alcohol content
- You should submit to chemical tests when called upon to do so. Chemical tests may be requested any time you are suspected of drunk driving on DUI checkpoints or after an accident. If you fail to submit to the chemical tests, you will face penalties for chemical test refusal.
- You need to install an ignition interlock device for six months. The IID is a Breathalyzer machine that you blow into to check your BAC. If there is a significant amount of alcohol in your body, then your car will not start.
- You should not commit any other offense during the probation period
- Check-in from time to time with your probation officer
In some situations, you may be needed to:
- Participate in the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Victim Impact Program
- Attend an alcohol education program
- Compensate any victim of your drunk driving actions for the economic losses they incurred as a result of your actions.
While on probation, you are required to follow all the regulations. Otherwise, your probation could be revoked, your sentence will be reinstated, and you will serve a jail sentence. If you are battling a 1st offense DUI in California, you should enlist the legal representation of a DUI attorney. With the help of a competent DUI defense attorney, you can get your 1st offense DUI reduced to a wet reckless, which is a lesser offense. If you manage to get your charges reduced, you will not receive a court-triggered driver’s license suspension.
Driver’s License Suspension for a 1st DUI Conviction
After DUI arrest, the arresting officer will take away your license and issue a pink notification that can be used up to thirty days after the arrest. Your original license will be taken to the Department of Motor vehicles, where you will have to contest its suspension.
The DMV Hearing
From the day of the arrest, you will have ten days to request a hearing with the Department of Motor Vehicles. After filing for the DMV hearing, the suspension of your license will be put on hold. However, if no hearing is requested, your license will be suspended.
The process of filing and contesting the suspension of your licensee in the DMV hearing can be quite tricky. However, having guidance from a DUI attorney can increase your chances of winning the trial. At the DMV hearing, the burden of proof is easily satisfied as compared to the DUI criminal case. These hearings take place in an office setup. You will be able to review the evidence presented against you by the arresting officer. Also, you can cross-examine the witnesses and testify for yourself.
If you can successfully challenge one of the incriminating pieces of evidence brought against you, the hearing officer may decide to set aside the suspension of your license. The judge will also consider the following factors to determine whether your license will be suspended:
- Whether or not the arresting officer had a reason to believe that your conduct was influenced by alcohol
- Your BAC at the time of the arrest
- If you failed to submit to the chemical tests. At the arrest, the officer is obliged to advise you on the consequences of refusing to take the tests. Failure to take these tests will attract a license suspension of one year or a two to three-year revocation.
After considering all the factors of your case, the judge can reverse the suspension of your driver’s license for alleged DUI until your criminal trial ends. If you lose the DMV hearing, the action to suspend your license will be sustained.
The outcome of the DMV hearing will not in any way affect your DUI criminal case. The court can also order a suspension of your license even when you won the DMV hearing. Unlike the DMV hearing, the criminal case is more serious, and the burden of proof is more substantial. Also, you must attend the hearing. If you are found guilty of the criminal charges, the court will suspend your license as an addition to other criminal penalties. The period of a court-imposed license suspension will be dependent on the circumstances surrounding your case and your criminal history.
Ignition Interlock Device Installation
An ignition interlock device is a mini-Breathalyzer machine installed on the dashboard of your vehicle. If the court mandates the installation of this device after a 1st DUI conviction, you must have the device installed professionally on any car you own and operate. Before starting the car, you are expected to blow into the machine. If your breath does not provide an alcohol-free sample, the vehicle will not start. Also, you may be asked to submit Random samples while driving. The judge will order installation of an Ignition Interlock Device when:
- You get convicted for a 1st DUI offense with a 0.05% BAC or higher
- You failed to submit to a chemical test at the time of DUI arrest
- You want to continue driving after suspension of your driver’s license
- If you commit a subsequent DUI offense
The IID is designed in a way that you are the only person who can provide a sample, and the results are sent to the Department of Motor Vehicles. This is accomplished by:
- Having a short wire that cannot reach the passenger seat
- Asking for Random samples when you are driving
- Making it an offense for a driver to ask someone else to blow into the device
If you are convicted of 1st DUI offense, you will be required to maintain the ignition interlock device for six months. However, if you do not get convicted in the criminal case but get a driver’s license suspension from the DMV, you will maintain the IID for four months.
Obtaining a Restricted Driver’s License
If you are convicted for a 1st DUI criminal offense or lose your DMV hearing, you will lose your driving privileges. This is by a suspension or revocation of your license. Fortunately, if your license is suspended under these circumstances, you can apply for a restricted driver’s license. However, you can only get a restricted commercial license unless your license was suspended for failure to submit to chemical tests. Also, the court may decide to deny you the restricted license due to some factors in your case. After the suspension of your driver’s license for DUI, there are two types of restricted license you can apply for:
- A Restricted License
A restricted license may be requested thirty days after the suspension of your license by the DMV. This license will allow you to drive to school, work, and drive to medical appointments or a court-ordered DUI program. If your DUI criminal case is pending, and the DMV suspends your license, you can apply for a restricted license.
- IID Restricted License
If you are successful in obtaining an IID restricted license, you can drive anywhere as long as you install and maintain an ignition interlock device on your vehicle. An IID is a Breathalyzer machine installed on the dashboard of your vehicle, which keeps the car from starting if the device detects alcohol in your breath. For an IID restricted license, you can request immediately after suspension of your driver’s license by the DMV.
After a DUI arrest, you will be required to keep the restricted license for four months. A conviction in the criminal case would need you to retain the IDD license for six months. However, it is essential to note that if your BAC exceeds 0.2%, your IID retention time may be extended to ten months.
Not all individuals whose license is suspended by the DMV will have the privilege of getting a restricted license. Therefore, you will require a competent DUI attorney to guide you through the legal process. The DMV requires you to meet the following requirements before obtaining a restricted license:
- You need to file an SR22 form. An SR22 is a certificate of insurance submitted by your vehicle insurance provider with the Department of Motor Vehicles. This form is used to confirm that you meet the California Minimum auto insurance requirement.
- You are expected to produce proof of enrollment in a DUI program before getting a restricted Driver’s License.
- You will be required to pay $125 issuance fee or $100 if you are an underage driver
Reinstating a Driver’s License that was Suspended for DUI in California
Having your driver’s license suspended for DUI is not the end of the road. Even when you are denied a restricted license, you can reinstate your original license after the suspension period elapses. If you want to get your license back, you will be required to:
- Complete all court-imposed requirements, including enrollment in an alcohol treatment program
- Show proof of insurance responsibility by obtaining an SR22 form
- Pay reinstatement fee
- Complete the jail sentence
Legal Defenses Against a 1st DUI
If you get arrested and charged with a DUI offense, you will not necessarily get convicted. There are several defenses you can present for the charges brought against you, including:
Improper Procedure for the Arrest
There is a specific procedure that needs to be followed during a DUI arrest. This will also include the taking of the tests. A field sobriety test should be carried out for a minimum of fifteen minutes, and you should not be forced to take the tests. The arresting officer should also ensure that you understand the consequences of failing to submit to the tests. If any of the rules are not followed, the testimony of the officer may be rendered inadmissible.
Challenging the Results of Chemical Tests
The results of chemical tests taken during and after arrest are significant pieces of evidence in a DUI case. If you can create a doubt in the credibility of these results, you will have a chance at fighting the charges brought against you. You can dispute these results by claiming that mouth alcohol led to the falsely high blood alcohol content. Also, you could argue that the Breathalyzer machine was broken and thus recorded the wrong results.
Claiming that Objective Symptoms of Intoxication Don’t Equal DUI
Challenging the use of physical symptoms to argue intoxication is an effective way to fight a DUI charge. The arresting officer is likely to use your physical appearance such as watery eyes, slurred speech, or an unsteady gait to conclude that you were drunk driving. A skilled DUI attorney can help you show alternative causes of these symptoms, such as irritation, fatigue, or allergies.
Careless Driving Does not Equal to DUI
You can fight DUI charges by arguing that you were just driving poorly but not driving under the influence. A prosecutor may dwell on your driving pattern to establish intoxication. This will include swerving between lanes and speeding. An experienced attorney can help you refute this evidence by arguing that sober drivers commit most traffic offenses. Also, your driving pattern could not be enough to predict that you were drunk driving.
A successful defense in your 1st DUI case can help lessen the penalties or reduce your charge to a wet reckless, which is a lesser offense. A conviction for wet reckless instead of DUI has lower penalties and no license suspension.
Expunging a 1st Offense DUI Record
Apart from the criminal penalties you receive after a DUI conviction, the DUI criminal records is a punishment by itself. When discovered during a background check, a DUI criminal record can deter your chances of getting a job or holding a public office. Fortunately, you can get relief from the criminal records by applying for DUI expungement. Whether you were convicted for a misdemeanor or felony, you are eligible for expungement.
However, before applying for an expungement, you should complete your probation and ensure that you are not serving a sentence for any other criminal offense. Also, you can petition the court to grant you an early termination of probation to facilitate an application for expungement. After completion of probation, you may petition the court to expunge your record. Depending on the circumstances of your case and the nature of the conviction, the court will determine whether you are eligible for an expungement.
If the probation is granted, you will withdraw the guilty plea, and the jury’s verdict will be set aside. If you are hoping to get an expungement for your 1st DUI conviction, it is crucial to seek legal representation. If your petition is accepted, you will be relieved of all the negative consequences that accompany a DUI conviction record. Also you:
- Will quickly obtain employment; this is because an employer cannot use an expunged record as a basis to deny you a job.
- Can travel to other countries without any complication. If you have a DUI conviction on your record, you can conveniently travel to countries like Canada.
- Can clear your image. A DUI conviction in your record is likely to be seen by many people. This can cause stigmatization and discrimination from society. Expunging your record releases you from all these issues.
Even after DUI expungement, you should know that the decision to suspend or revoke your driver’s license will not be overturned. Also, if you are charged with another DUI or wet reckless in the future, you will be considered a repeat offender.
Fight 1st Offense DUI Charges with the Help of a Defense Lawyer Near Me
Getting charged with a DUI does not always mean that you will be convicted. There are defenses you can present, which include claiming that your conduct was not impaired and challenging the chemical test results, among others. A successful defense can help reduce the penalties for DUI or possibly aid in the dismissal of your charges. If you or your loved one is charged with DUI, please seek legal representation. You can contact us at the Orange County DUI Defense Lawyer. We serve the Orange County area. Please get in touch with us at 714-820-9592 today.