Over the years, California has created some of the strictest penalties for DUI arrests. The vast majority of DUI arrests are not career criminals but normal people with very little experience dealing with the possible pitfalls.
When you are stopped and cited for a DUI charge, the officer will send notice to DMV to suspend your California Driver's License. From the time they send this notice, you have 10 days to intervene with DMV by requesting your DMV hearing.
(IMPORTANT!: go NOW to the "Request a DMV Hearing" section of this website to learn more about avoiding this suspension!)
DMV only considers whether to take action on your license, and because they only have administrative powers over you (whether your license remains valid or not), they are not held to some of the same standards as the criminal court. A DMV hearing does not result in a conviction.
If you don't request a hearing, the DMV will typically use the officer's statement in the form (called the DS-367) to uphold your suspension. The suspension will begin with a "hard suspension" meaning that you cannot drive at all. On a first offense, this will be 30 days of no driving. After 30 days, you can apply for a restricted license from the DMV, but in order to be granted the restricted privilege to drive again, you must meet certain requirements.
The length of the possible suspension is different depending on your record and whether you refused a chemical test. When you applied for a driver's license, DMV required that you give "implied consent" to chemical testing. Once you are lawfully arrested, DMV expects you to take the chemical test (either blood or breath test) and if you refuse, DMV may revoke your driving privilege for a certain period of time, often a year. Obviously, if you were not lawfully arrested or if you didn't refuse but the officer claimed you did, it will be important to fight this issue with the DMV.
When a DMV hearing is requested, DMV will "stay" the suspension meaning that they will pause their administrative actions until the hearing is completed and a decision is made.
When the officer completes an investigation, it will be forwarded to the local prosecutor's office (typically the District Attorney or City Attorney's Office) and it will be reviewed for prosecution. If the prosecutor feels there is enough evidence to move forward in your case, your case will be sent to the local court in the county of your arrest.
Your first appearance is typically an arraignment which is intended for the judge to advise you of some of your most basic Constitutional rights and ask you how you would like to proceed. Even if you do not believe you have a strong defense, you should NEVER attempt to resolve a DUI charge without first having an experienced attorney review the evidence in your case and discuss your options.
One option is to challenge whether the officer should have stopped you at all. This can be done without a jury trial and sometimes results in a dismissal of your charges when the prosecutor cannot present the evidence they would need at trial.
For you to be convicted of a DUI charge, a prosecutor would have to prove to 12 jurors that you were driving while impaired and/or at a blood alcohol level of .08% or greater. There is no such thing as a "slam dunk" case even when the evidence is theoretically strong.
A Few of the More Common DUI jury trial problems:
Even if you decide to resolve your case, having an attorney handle both your DMV and court matters can protect you from the many problems that can arise.
Here's an example of how things can go wrong:
Jane recieves an advertisement from a IGNITION INTERLOCK PROVIDER telling her to she is required to install a device and they do. They charge her outrageous fees for the installation lockout and all sorts of hidden fees. Jane was not eligible to have the IID restricted license yet because her license was not in suspended status at the time of the installation and she does not get credit for the time the device was on her car. She just wasted a ton of money.
Another person Sally decides she just wants to "get it over with." The first chance she gets, she signs up for the DUI school that she read about on the DMV website. At Sally's first court date, the case wasn't filed and she was told to check back with the District Attorney. Three months later after Sally's completed the DUI school, her case is filed in court and Sally has her arraignment. Her case is resolvable for a lesser offense and she paid for and attended more school than she should have. Sally also found out she enrolled in the school that charges twice what the other provider charges.
And a final example, Dick. Dick doesn't hire an attorney because his friends did and told him to not bother. He goes to court and pleads guilty to the judge without even consulting anyone about the case. He is sentenced to a regular DUI. He later gets a letter from the DMV that his blood alcohol was below the legal limit and they are returing his license. He could have had his case dismissed or at least reduced to a lesser offense had he obtained an attorney.
This is just a few example of why it can be so important to go over your options and possible consequences before making the key decisions in your DUI charge.
A first-time misdemeanor DUI conviction will usually result in probation, a DUI education program, fines, driver license suspension (this can often be done at the same time as the DMV suspension), and some jurisdictions will require a Victim Impact Panel (such as MADD). It may be possible to get a reduced charge from a first-time DUI offense depending on the facts of the case and other factors.
Second offense cases often mean increased penalties, including a longer DUI education program called the "multiple offender program." By law, there is a minimum custody time, but an experienced attorney can usually work out alternatives to avoid any actual jail time. Third offenses are even more serious, and a fourth DUI is considered a felony. A DUI may also be charged as a felony if it caused injury or death.
Some counties will require the installation of the Ignition Interlock Device (IID) on your vehicle. This is an alternative to a restricted license and can become a complicated issue for those who drive for work or do not always have their own car. Having someone on your side who is well versed in the often nonsensical requirements imposed by DMV will help you through this process.
Another issue that can come up is if you do not live in the same county (or even state) in which you were arrested. The local court and DMV may expect you to appear in court or complete requirements in their local area even though that would obviously be very difficult. An experienced attorney can help you navigate this often frustrating situation and minimize the inconvenience to you.
Other Considerations -
Every person has different concerns when facing a DUI charge. Maybe it's keeping your job, or protecting your driving privilege, or something else entirely.
No matter what your motivation, it is important that you get advice based on your priorities. No amount of online research can replace the value of discussing your specific situation with an experienced attorney who deals with cases in your area.
Contact Attorney Vicki A. Jensen today for a consultation on your California DUI charge and get advice based on the facts of your case and your priorities.