The “DUI court process” in California refers to the life of the case as it proceeds from arrest to arraignment to pretrial to jury trial. Most defendants end up pleading to DUI or to a lesser offense, and a fortunate few get their charges dismissed, short of going to trial.
The potential penalties for a driving under the influence conviction can include:
Some of the most common steps within the DUI court process include:
- the traffic stop, roadside investigation, and arrest,
- a DMV hearing regarding your license suspension,
- certain court procedures such as arraignment and a possible trial, and
- sentencing (if there is a DUI conviction).
Note that you can always raise a legal defense on your behalf. An effective defense can work to reduce or even dismiss a drunk driving charge. A few common DUI defenses include attorneys showing that:
- a police officer stopped or arrested you without probable cause,
- there were errors in a breath test or blood test, and/or
- there were inaccuracies in field sobriety tests.
Our California criminal defense attorneys and DUI defense lawyers will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. What happens during a typical California DUI investigation?
- 2. What happens after a California DUI arrest?
- 3. What kind of lawyer should I hire following DUI charges?
- 4. What is the California DMV hearing process?
- 5. What are the most important DUI court proceedings in a given case?
- 6. What are the best legal defenses for a California DUI?
- 7. What are some DUI penalties?
1. What happens during a typical California DUI investigation?
An investigation is the first step in the California DUI court process. It typically begins after you are pulled over by the authorities (for example, for a traffic offense or because of an accident).
If the police suspect that you are under the influence or intoxicated, they might report that:
- you emitted an odor of alcohol from your breath, or
- you displayed “objective signs of intoxication” (such as red bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and a flushed face).
An officer will then ask you to perform a variety of
- roadside field sobriety tests (FSTs), and perhaps even
- an on-the-spot breath test, known as a Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) test.
Based on the officer’s observations, the officer may arrest you for DUI, per Vehicle Code 23152a VC (driving under the influence).1
2. What happens after a California DUI arrest?
After you are arrested for DUI, the arresting officer will take you to a
- police station, or
- jail for a blood or breath test to measure your blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
If a breath test result shows a BAC of 0.08% or higher, you will additionally be charged with Vehicle Code 23152b VC (driving with a BAC of .08 or higher).2
Note that a police officer at this point may also require you to take a blood or urine test if the officer suspects drug use.3
If you refuse to submit to a chemical test, you will still get arrested for drunk driving. Though you will additionally face a “refusal” allegation. A refusal charge carries additional DUI penalties, including a one-year driver’s license suspension and a mandatory two days in county jail.4
Once the authorities complete their DUI tests, they book and usually release you. Depending on the facts of the case, you may get released if you:
- post bail, or
- sign a promise to appear in court on an assigned court date.
The arresting officer then completes their police report concerning the DUI and submits it to the local prosecuting agency for review. A prosecutor will then either:
- decline to file charges, or
- formally charge you with a California DUI.
3. What kind of lawyer should I hire following DUI charges?
When it comes to legal representation, you have three options when it comes to navigating the California DUI court process. These include:
- representing yourself on the DUI charge,
- choosing a public defender, or
- hiring a private DUI defense attorney.
The first option is usually not the best. California DUIs are technical and complex, and prosecutors and judges are tough on offenders. Therefore, you need a lawyer on your side who understands how the California DUI court process works.
As for a public defender vs. a private attorney, note that not everyone qualifies for a public defender. If your income or assets are too high, you may not be eligible for a public defender’s assistance.
If you decide to hire a private attorney, you should take extra steps to ensure that the lawyer is skilled in the area of DUI defense. You will also want a lawyer who:
- keeps abreast of changes and developments in California DUI law, and
- has excellent negotiating skills
4. What is the California DMV hearing process?
Shortly after a DUI arrest, the arresting officer will notify you that your driver’s license will be suspended in 30 days. The officer will confiscate your driver’s license and issue you a temporary one (the pink form) that is valid until the suspension goes into effect.
The arresting officer then sends your confiscated driver’s license to the California DMV. The DMV will automatically suspend your driver’s license in 30 days unless you request a DMV hearing.
You must request this hearing within 10 days from the date of the arrest.
A DMV hearing is essentially a quasi-legal proceeding held at a DMV office. During the hearing, you have the opportunity to challenge the suspension of your driver’s license.
If you “win” a DMV DUI hearing, the DMV will not suspend your license.
If you “lose” the hearing, the DMV will suspend your license. The suspension will last for anywhere from four months to three years, depending on:
- how many prior DUIs you have, and
- whether you took or refused a chemical test.5
5. What are the most important DUI court proceedings in a given case?
Once a prosecutor files DUI charges against you, the DUI case enters the California criminal court system (this is true regardless of whether you win or lose a DMV hearing).
There are three major court proceedings once a case enters the court system. These include:
- an arraignment,
- pretrial proceedings which involve motions and plea bargains, and
- a jury trial.
A DUI arraignment is the first stage in the life of a California DUI criminal court proceeding. It marks the time when you make your first official court appearance.
The arraignment is where you enter an initial plea on your DUI charges. You can plead:
- not guilty, or
- “no contest.”
If you plead guilty, you will enter the sentencing phase of your DUI case. If you plead not guilty, the case enters the pre-trial phase of the court process.
5.2. Pretrial motions and plea bargains
The pre-trial phase of the California DUI court process typically lasts the longest (anywhere from weeks to months). This is when your attorney meticulously investigates the case by doing everything from visiting the scene of the arrest to checking the maintenance records of the BAC testing equipment.
If a lawyer uncovers substantial evidence that favors you, then there is a likelihood that the judge and/or prosecutor may reduce or dismiss your DUI charges.
Typically, the most effective ways to accomplish this include:
- filing pre-trial motions, and
- plea bargaining.
As to pre-trial motions, a DUI lawyer may file a:
- probable cause motion (to contest the validity of an officer’s initial stop and/or arrest),
- a motion to suppress evidence (to ask the court to exclude any evidence that was illegally obtained or will unjustly prejudice you), and/or
- a “Pitchess” motion (to learn more about the officer’s complaint history in an effort to discredit their report and testimony).
As to plea bargaining, this is when a defense lawyer may try to negotiate with the prosecutor to reach “a deal,” or resolve a case short of going to trial. For example, a lawyer may try to convince a prosecutor to charge you with a lesser offense like “wet reckless” or “dry reckless” as opposed to a full-on DUI crime.
If a DUI defense attorney fails to get a satisfactory resolution of a case via a plea deal, it may be time for the DUI case to go to trial.
5.3. Jury trial
Most California DUI cases settle prior to advancing to trial. Though in some cases, a jury trial is part of the California DUI process.
The DUI trial itself can be broken down into quite a few phases, including:
- jury selection,
- opening statements,
- the prosecution’s case,
- the defense case,
- closing statements,
- verdict, and
In order to convict you of a California DUI, the prosecutor must convince all jurors beyond a reasonable doubt of your guilt.
There are definite advantages and disadvantages to going to trial that will depend on the facts of your individual case. A DUI defense attorney will explain these approaches so that you can decide whether a jury trial should be included within your DUI court proceeding.
6. What are the best legal defenses for a California DUI?
Beginning on the date of arraignment, you have the legal right to challenge a DUI charge with a legal defense.
An effective defense can work to reduce or even dismiss a drunk driving charge.
A few common defenses include DUI attorneys showing that:
- the police stopped or arrested you without probable cause,
- the police made errors in conducting a breath test, blood test, or field sobriety test,
- you were not impaired or “under the influence,”
- you were not driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle, and/or
- the authorities engaged in some type of official misconduct.
7. What are some DUI penalties?
You can face severe penalties for a DUI conviction. For example, a first-time DUI under California’s DUI laws is punishable by:
- a misdemeanor charge,
- three to five years of informal misdemeanor probation (typically three years),6
- DUI school ranging from three to nine months (typically three months),7
- fines and penalty assessments totaling between $1,500 and $2,000 (depending on the county),8
- a six-month driver’s license suspension,
- installation of an ignition interlock device for six months (unless you choose not to drive),
- up to six months in jail (depending on the county),9
- attending a victim impact panel, and
- indirect consequences (such as increased car insurance premiums and harsher penalties if you get convicted of a subsequent DUI).
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense or DUI lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both consultations and legal advice you can trust.
Our defense lawyers also represent clients throughout California, including those in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Los Angeles County, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Orange County.
- California Vehicle Code 23152a VC.
- California Vehicle Code 23152b VC.
- California Vehicle Code 23152e VC.
- California Vehicle Code 23612a1 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 13352 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 23536a VC.
- California Vehicle Code 23538b VC.
- California Vehicle Code 23536a VC.
- See same.