California’s DUI laws can be complex and confusing. In this section, our attorneys break down the rules and explain the process.
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California DUI cases are rarely hopeless. Police officers bungle roadside investigations. Breathalyzers and blood testing are prone to error. Medical conditions render falsely high BAC readings. Good DUI defense lawyers capitalize on these issues to win cases.
Most people arrested for a California DUI charge assume the evidence against them is insurmountable.
Most of them are wrong.
Fighting a DUI case almost always makes more sense than simply pleading guilty. For example, did you know that…
Our team of California DUI attorneys consists of former drunk driving prosecutors, former DUI enforcement officers, and former police toxicologists. We defend clients throughout the state, including the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura, San Diego and Orange Counties.
Regardless the type of case, we visit the location, study the arresting officers’ training and background, reanalyze blood samples, examine the breathalyzers’ maintenance history, subpoena and cross-examine officers at live DMV hearings, and deconstruct the case to find the problems and issues leading to a successful DUI defense.
If you got arrested for DUI, we invite you to join us for a case analysis with a California DUI Lawyer. We want to start by hearing from you everything that happened leading up to, during and after the arrest. We’ll give you our candid opinion as to the likelihood of prevailing in court and at the DMV.
For the rest of this page, we will discuss California DUIs from arrest through court…
Most California DUI arrests begin with a traffic stop or a checkpoint. The officer asks you to perform a series of field sobriety tests and to blow twice into a handheld breathalyzer. After the arrest, the cop usually will ask you to take a blood or breath test at the police station, jail or hospital (you’re required by law to take this test…refusing the chemical test may result in tougher California DUI penalties and a one-year drivers license suspension).
For most misdemeanor DUI arrests, the police will release you within a few hours of arrest and booking (but for a felony DUI or accident case, you may have to post bail). Upon release, you should be given two documents: a citation to appear in court, and a pink temporary license. The cops will usually take your California drivers license and mail it to the DMV. If you’re from out of state and get a California DUI, the police here can’t take your physical license.
Starting in 2019, DUI arrestees can immediately apply for an IID restricted license: IID is short for ignition interlock device, which is a breathalyzer that keeps vehicles from starting if it detects alcohol. An IID restricted license permits DUI arrestees to continue driving without limitations as long as they keep an IID in their cars. The length of time an IID restricted license lasts depends on the defendant’s DUI history. (California Senate Bill 1046 (2018)).
Motorists typically do not lose their license immediately after a DUI. Instead, they get a temporary license that will give way to a suspended license unless they ultimately win their DMV hearing.
You must contact the DMV within 10 days of your arrest to request a DMV hearing. Otherwise, you forfeit your right to a hearing and your license automatically goes into suspension after 30 days. If you hire a California DUI lawyer, he/she can request the hearing for you. It’s usually better that way, because your lawyer can often schedule the hearing further out (thus getting more time to prepare) and he/she can sometimes influence what DMV hearing officer gets assigned to the case.
Generally your California DUI attorney conducts the hearing on your behalf. You may or may not be asked to attend. Your lawyer’s primary objective is to convince the DMV not to suspend your driver’s license. But your lawyer may also use the DMV hearing as an opportunity to gather evidence that may prove useful in court.
For example, we can subpoena the breathalyzer’s maintenance and calibration logs, often revealing a history of malfunctions and inaccurate readings. We can also subpoena the arresting officer to testify at the DMV hearing…and elicit testimony about poor DUI training and mistakes in the investigation.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the DMV’s hearing officer takes the matter into consideration and later issues written findings. The decision usually gets mailed out in one to 30 days. If the DMV finds in your favor, no license suspension is imposed (though a DUI conviction in court could trigger a separate suspension). If the DMV finds against you, your license goes into suspension within a few days of receiving notice.
Note: DMV hearings only occur for DUI of alcohol arrests (to determine if you drove with a .08 or higher BAC, or any positive BAC level in the case of an underage DUI). If you got arrested for a California DUI of drugs / DUID charge–including DUI of marijuana, DUI of Vicodin or DUI of Ambien–there is no DMV hearing. But if you get convicted of any of these charges in court, the court conviction will trigger a drivers license suspension.
If you do sustain a drivers license suspension, you can usually get a restricted license within 30 days. This allows you to drive to and from work-related activities and any court or DMV imposed alcohol program. Sometimes we can make arrangements to get you a restricted license right away. But you must heed the suspension while it’s in effect. Driving with a suspended license in California is a crime and can lead to jail time, a probation violation and a longer license suspension.
Most people whose BAC exceeds .08 get charged with two misdemeanor crimes: DUI under Vehicle Code 23152(a) and Driving with Excessive BAC under Vehicle Code 23152(b). Your objective is to avoid a conviction for either of these offenses.
Your California DUI attorney most likely can attend all the DUI court proceedings on your behalf…unless there’s a hearing where you have to testify, or the case goes to trial. Most DUI cases may involve several court dates, and can span over several months. During this time, your DUI attorney collects evidence, runs motions, and negotiates with the judge and prosecutor seeking a dismissal or a reduction in the charges.
If a settlement is reached involving you pleading to a DUI or a lesser charge, this can be completed one of two ways. You may come to court and plead in person before the judge. Or in many cases, your California DUI lawyer can have you sign notarized documents (called a Thal waiver) outside of court. Your attorney can then brings the documents to court and execute the plea on your behalf.
If no settlement can be reached, the DUI case ultimately will get set for a jury trial. Prosecutors and judges often give better deals after a case gets set for trial…as there may be more trials on the docket than courtrooms available to accommodate them. Also, problems in the state’s evidence become more apparent when a trial D.A. finally takes a hard look at the case.
Every DUI conviction carries a driver’s license suspension. But it is usually possible for DUI defendants to continue driving without restrictions if they agree to get an ignition interlock device (IID) installed in their vehicles.
Probably the worst impact of a DUI conviction is the long-term consequences: a permanent criminal record and a bad driving record. A top-notch California DUI defense attorney gives you your best chance of avoiding both. We invite you to meet with us and explore options for fighting the DUI case.
To learn about Nevada DUI laws, go to our information page on Nevada DUI Laws.
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