California DUI Overview
California has some of the strictest statutes in the nation regarding driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). The law can be found at California Vehicle Code section 23152, “Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs” (or the combination of both).
Rights and Responsibilities
Many people arrested for DUI are thrust, for the first time in their lives, into the California criminal justice system. As such, many DUI arrestees can be overwhelmed and terrified by criminal procedures, and vastly unfamiliar with their rights and responsibilities. Arrestees become DUI suspects – innocent until proven guilty. Thus, their rights include the right to an attorney, the right against self-incrimination, the right to remain silent, the right to be informed of the charges, the right to fundamental fairness, and, in more serious cases, the right to a jury trial. However, the accused has the duty to remain polite, cooperative, and answer basic questions to establish identity.
Procedurally, DUI arrests result in two separate cases: A case in a state criminal court of justice, and an administrative hearing at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The DMV hearing, which must be requested within 10 days of arrest, provides the chance for the accused to present favorable evidence to prevent drivers’ license suspension. The accused may argue that she needs her license to get to work, and that the license should on these grounds be merely restricted. The issues center on the drivers’ license and car registration, since this is what the DMV has control over.
In the criminal court, on the other hand, the issues are whether the accused was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, as defined in California Vehicle Code section 23152, and the according punishment which society must mete out. The first way for the prosecution to meet the statute is if the accused was unable to drive a car with the same caution characteristic of a prudent, ordinary, and sober person under the same or similar circumstances. Under this standard, it doesn’t matter what kind of substance, including prescription medication, made the person “drunk” or “high” – it only matters whether the accused was driving well or poorly at the time pulled over. Evidence could include a collision, eye-witness accounts, police reports, and field sobriety tests.
The second way to meet the statute is if the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was .08 or above. Under this count, it doesn’t matter how well or capable of driving the person was. The best way to measure the BAC is (logically) by actually testing the blood at the time of arrest.
While field sobriety testing is optional, a blood, breath, or urine test is mandatory. Field sobriety testing will usually help the prosecution’s case, because police may only choose to report the results if the driver failed. The arresting officer may unintentionally exaggerate results. Furthermore, the results are subjective (e.g., touching finger to nose with eyes closed may be difficult for other reasons besides being drunk).
Breath and urine testing are inaccurate measures of BAC: breath tests are affected by items in the mouth and air from the esophagus. Urine tests are affected by body weight, liquids consumed, size of bladder, other drugs taken, and factors unrelated to the actual alcohol content in the blood.
RLG attorneys are experienced in all aspects of DUI law. If you have been arrested for DUI, a criminal defense attorney at RLG will fight to protect your rights. We serve the entire Bay Area.
For outstanding legal representation, please contact RLG for a free consultation: (415) 877-4486
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