It's Labor Day weekend. You've been out rafting all day on the American River with your buddies. The rapids weren't too bad, there was plenty of beer and you didn't capsize this time.
You get in your truck and head back to "Sac" listening to Tim McGraw on your ride home. As you sing along, you begin to drift into the opposing lane. Suddenly, you see lights behind you. CHP is pulling you over. The officer approaches and asks for license and registration. She asks you a few more questions and notices your speech is slurred. "Sir, have you been drinking?" she asks. You don't want to lie. "Two beers," you respond hesitantly.
You then take a bunch of field sobriety tests (FSTs). Eventually, you blow into a handheld device known as a preliminary alcohol test (PAS). The officer believes you're intoxicated, places you under arrest and takes you to the Main Jail for booking and your choice of a blood or breath test. You refuse to take any tests, but you'll be spending the night in jail anyway.
Next stop, arraignment at the County Courthouse.
The cop took my license. Now what?
After the officer arrested you, she likely took your driver's license and gave you an "Order of Suspension and Temporary License." You may drive for 30 days from the date of issuance (usually your arrest date) provided your license is not expired, or your driving privilege is not suspended for some other reason. After that, the suspension takes effect. You only have ten days to contact DMV to request a hearing (known as an Admin Per Se Hearing) to contest the suspension.
California has two separate charges for drivers who are impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Driving Under the Influence: You weren't able to drive safely and the officer could see it. Your FSTs show it. You don't need a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or above to be charged with DUI. Simply put, alcohol and/or drugs have impaired your judgment to the point where you can't drive your car in the same way as someone who is not intoxicated.
Driving with a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.08%: Your BAC is at or above the legal limit of 0.08%.
You'll face enhanced penalties in any of the following cases:
High BAC: Drive with a BAC of 0.15 or higher and you're looking at a longer jail sentence.
DUI with A Child Under 14 in the Car: It doesn't matter what the reason is. If you have a minor in your car under 14 years old, you face enhanced penalties.
DUI with Excessive Speed and Reckless Driving: If you drive 20-30 miles over the speed limit and recklessly, you add 60 days jail onto your sentence.
Under Age 21 Operating with Any Alcohol Content: If you are under 21, California has zero tolerance for drinking and driving. You'll be charged if have any presence of alcohol in your system.
Keep in mind, you will face felony charges if you do any of the following :
- 3 DUI or Wet Reckless convictions within 10 years;
- Cause serious injury or death while driving; or
- Have a prior felony DUI on your record.
If you spent the night in jail, you'll be released the next day with a promise to appear for arraignment. If you are charged with a felony you'll likely stay in jail until your arraignment. You must be brought before a judge within 48 hours. The judge will inform you of the charges and set bail. She may impose additional conditions such as alcohol testing. You will enter a plea of not guilty, guilty, or no contest. You can hire a lawyer, represent yourself, or ask for a public defender.
Pretrial Conference: Misdemeanor/ Felony
Pretrial conferences are where the plea negotiations take place. In a misdemeanor, it'll happen after the arraignment. In a felony, they happen before the preliminary hearing.
At the pretrial conference, the prosecutor might offer a first-time offender a reduced charge known as a "wet reckless" in exchange for your guilty or no contest plea. It will remain on your record for ten years and will be considered a DUI offense in the event you incur another DUI resulting in a conviction within this ten-year period. The fines and penalties for a wet reckless are less than for a standard DUI.
Preliminary Hearing (Felony Only)
You have a right to a preliminary hearing within ten days of your arraignment. This isn't the trial. It's a hearing to show there's probable cause to believe you committed a felony. The prosecutor will call witnesses to testify under oath. Your attorney can cross-examine them. If the judge binds you over trial, new dates will be set for the superior court arraignment and trial.
Arraignment (Felony Only)
This is when you are again read your charges and the case is set for trial. This must be done within 15 calendar days of your preliminary hearing. Calendar days include weekends and holidays. There will also be another attempt to settle the case before trial.
You've rejected the offer and want to go to trial. The State must prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You have the right to a jury trial where 12 randomly selected members of the community decide your guilt or innocence.
If the jury finds you guilty, the judge will impose a sentence in your case ranging from a small fine, to probation, to alcohol/drug counseling, and in the most serious cases, an active prison sentence.
Driver's License Suspension: The Administrative Per Se Hearing
DUI arrests actually require two hearings: criminal and administrative. Nobody likes dealing with Department of Motor Vehicles. But if you are arrested for DUI, it's inevitable. You face the following license suspensions without any aggravated circumstances:
First Offense: 6 months
Second Offense: 2 years
Third Offense: 3-year revocation
What if I refused a chemical test?
If you refused a blood or breath test, there's a penalty. California has an implied consent law. If you're arrested and refuse to take the chemical test, you'll be fined and the DMV will automatically suspend your license for one year for the first refusal, two years for the second, and three years for the third. This is in addition to any penalties you'll receive if you are convicted of DUI in the criminal case.
Ignition Interlock Device
If you've been convicted of any DUI-related offense, the judge has the option of requiring you to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on any vehicle you own or intend to drive. The court might have you install the device if the court might order an IID if you had:
- BAC of at least 0.15%;
- Moving violations prior to the DUI;
- Prior DUI convictions within ten years;
- Refused the chemical test.
Remember, it's best to never drink or use drugs and drive. Select a designated driver ahead of time who will stay sober. You can also ask someone else to give you a ride, call a taxi, or use public transportation.