The “DUI court process” refers to all the procedural and legal steps that take place in the life of California DUI cases. It is critical for any person facing this process to seek the help of a skilled criminal defense or DUI attorney. 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 a motorist’s license suspension,
- certain court procedures such as arraignment and a possible trial, and
- sentencing (if there is a DUI conviction).
Note that people arrested or accused of a DUI can always raise a legal defense on their 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 a party 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 a driver is pulled over by the authorities (for example, for a traffic offense or because of an accident).
If the police suspect that a motorist is under the influence or intoxicated, he/she might report that:
- the motorist emitted an odor of alcohol from his/her breath, or
- the motorist displayed “objective signs of intoxication” (such as red bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and a flushed face).
An officer will then ask the suspect 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 the driver for DUI, per Vehicle Code 23152a VC (driving under the influence).1
2. What happens after a California DUI arrest?
After people are arrested for DUI, the arresting officer will take them to a
- police station, or
- jail for a blood or breath test to measure their blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
If a breath test result shows a BAC of 0.08% or higher, the arrestee 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 a suspect to take a blood or urine test if the officer suspects drug use.3
If a suspect refuses to submit to a chemical test, the party will still get arrested for drunk driving. But he/she 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 the arrestee. Depending on the facts of the case, drivers may get released if they:
- post bail, or
- sign a promise to appear in court on an assigned court date.
The arresting officer then completes his/her 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 the driver with a California DUI.
3. What kind of lawyer should I hire following DUI charges?
When it comes to legal representation, defendants have three options when it comes to navigating the California DUI court process. These include:
- representing themselves for the DUI charge,
- choosing a public defender, or
- hiring a private DUI defense attorney.
The first option is usually not the best for a defendant. California DUIs are technical and complex, and prosecutors and judges are tough on offenders. Defendants, therefore, need a lawyer on their 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 a defendant’s income or assets are too high, he/she may not be eligible for a public defender’s assistance.
If a party decides to hire a private attorney, the defendant should take extra steps to ensure that the lawyer is skilled in the area of DUI defense. An accused 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 the arrestee that his/her driver’s license will be suspended in 30 days. The officer will confiscate the arrestee’s driver’s license and issue the party a temporary one (the pink form) that is valid until the suspension goes into effect.
The arresting officer then sends the confiscated driver’s license to the California DMV. The DMV will automatically suspend the party’s driver’s license in 30 days unless the party requests a DMV hearing.
A party 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, the person arrested for DUI has the opportunity to challenge the suspension of his/her driver’s license.
If a party “wins” a DMV DUI hearing, the DMV will not suspend his/her license.
If a party “loses” the hearing, the DMV will suspend the person’s license. The suspension will last for anywhere from four months to three years, depending on:
- how many prior DUIs a driver has, and
- whether the driver 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 a party, the DUI case enters the California criminal court system (this is true regardless of whether a party wins or loses 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 a defendant makes his/her first official court appearance.
The arraignment is where the defendant enters an initial plea on his/her DUI charges. A defendant can plead:
- not guilty, or
- “no contest.”
If a party pleads guilty, the defendant will enter the sentencing phase of his/her DUI case. If a party pleads 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 a defendant’s 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 the accused, then there is a likelihood that the judge and/or prosecutor may reduce or dismiss a defendant’s 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 the accused), and/or
- a “Pitchess” motion (to learn more about the officer’s complaint history in an effort to discredit his/her 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 the defendant 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. But for a number of defendants, 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 a defendant of a California DUI, the prosecutor must convince all jurors beyond a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt.
There are definite advantages and disadvantages to going to trial that will depend on the facts of a defendant’s individual case. A DUI defense attorney will explain these approaches to an accused so that he/she can decide whether a jury trial should be included within his/her DUI court proceeding.
6. What are the best legal defenses for a California DUI?
Beginning on the date of arraignment, a defendant has 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 the defendant without probable cause,
- the police made errors in conducting a breath test, blood test, or field sobriety test,
- the arresting officer did not read the defendant his/her Miranda rights,
- the defendant was not impaired or “under the influence,”
- the accused was 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?
Drivers 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 the defendant chooses 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 the defendant gets 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 free 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.