Vehicle Code 23578 VC – Enhanced DUI Penalties for Excessive BAC or Test Refusal

Vehicle Code 23578 VC is the California statute that allows a court to impose enhanced penalties in DUI cases involving an “excessive BAC” or a “test refusal.”

An “excessive BAC” is a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or higher.

A “test refusal” is when a defendant refuses either:

  • a breath test, or
  • a urine test.

This code section states:

“In addition to any other provision of this code, if a person is convicted of a violation of Section 23152 or 23153, the court shall consider a concentration of alcohol in the person's blood of 0.15 percent or more, by weight, or the refusal of the person to take a breath or urine test, as a special factor that may justify enhancing the penalties in sentencing, in determining whether to grant probation, and, if probation is granted, in determining additional or enhanced terms and conditions of probation.”

Enhanced penalties, under VC 23578, may include:

California's enhanced DUI penalties laws apply when a driver is convicted of either:

  1. a violation of Vehicle Code 23152a VC or 23152b VC, driving under the influence, or
  2. a violation of Vehicle Code 23153 VC, DUI causing injury.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

man slouched on steering wheel drunk dui
VC 23578 is the California statute that allows a court to impose enhanced penalties in DUI cases

1. When is Vehicle Code 23578 imposed?

A court may impose California's laws on enhanced DUI penalties when:

  1. a defendant had an excessive blood alcohol concentration, or
  2. a defendant refused a test.

1.1. Excessive Blood Alcohol

“Excessive blood alcohol,” under this statute, is a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or higher.1

Note that California's “legal limit” in DUI cases is a BAC of .08%. If a motorist is below this limit, he is not guilty of per se DUI. If a driver is above this limit, he is guilty of per se DUI.

1.2. Test refusal

A “test refusal,” under this law, is when a defendant refuses either:

  • a breath test, or
  • a blood or urine test.2

Note that when a motorist gets a California driver's license, he:

  • implicitly agrees to,
  • take a chemical test (either breath or urine test),

if the motorist is arrested for DUI.

This is known as California's implied consent law.

Please note that this law only applies to breath tests after a lawful DUI arrest. This means that a driver can still refuse to take a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) breath test before an arrest takes place.

2. What are “enhanced” penalties?

Enhanced” penalties under this code section mean harsher penalties than normally imposed for a DUI conviction.3

For example, a first time DUI conviction in California may result in the following penalties:

  1. suspension of the defendant's driver's license for four-months, and/or
  2. DUI classes for three months.

Under Vehicle Code 23578, these penalties may increase to:

  • a driver's license suspension for six months, and
  • DUI classes for nine months.

Tougher penalties may also take the form of:

Note that this law applies when a driver receives either:

  1. a first time DUI, or
  2. any subsequent DUIs.
drunk man and his car keys
“Enhanced” penalties under this code section mean harsher penalties than normally imposed for a DUI conviction.

3. What are the DUI cases where a court may apply these penalties?

California's enhanced DUI penalties laws apply in two types of DUI cases. These are when a driver is convicted of:

  1. driving under the influence, per Vehicle Code 23152 VC, or
  2. DUI causing injury, per Vehicle Code 23153.

A person violates VC 23152 when he:

  • operates a motor vehicle,
  • while “under the influence” of alcohol or with a BAC of .08 or higher.4

"Under the influence" means that a driver's physical or mental abilities are impaired to the extent that he can no longer drive as well as a cautious sober person.5

A person violates VC 23153 when he:

  1. drives under the influence, and
  2. causes bodily injury to another person as a result.6

A driver can be convicted of this crime if he is under the influence of:

  • alcohol,
  • drugs (known as DUID), or
  • a combination of drugs or alcohol.

4. Are these penalties always enforced?

The enhanced penalties under Vehicle Code 23578 are not imposed in every case of:

  • driving under the influence, and
  • DUI causing injury.

The statute states that:

“the court shall consider [an excessive BAC and test refusal] as a special factor that may justify enhancing the penalties in sentencing…”(emphasis added).

This language means that a court is not required to impose tougher penalties in all cases. Rather, the court may choose to punish a defendant with harsher penalties in its discretion.

california dui attorneys
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Legal References:

  1. California Vehicle Code 23578 VC.

  2. See same.

  3. See same.

  4. California Vehicle Code 23152a VC.

  5. People v. Mead (1954) 126 Cal.App.2d 164.

  6. California Vehicle Code 23153 VC.

  7. California Vehicle Code 23578 VC.

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