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Your San Diego DUI Case: The Basics

It's Friday evening in San Diego and you're here on business. Tonight you head to Petco Park to watch the bitter rivalry between the Padres and Giants. You have several beers at the game and a few more afterward in the Gaslamp Quarter. Feeling hungry and tired, you grab some tacos at a pop-up stand for the drive back to your hotel.

Suddenly, as you pull onto Hotel Circle you see flashing lights behind you. You're getting pulled over. A San Diego police officer approaches your car, and asks for license and registration. She asks you a few more questions and notices you have red, watery eyes and your speech is slurred. "Sir, have you been drinking?" she asks. "Two beers," you respond. She then asks you to take a series of field sobriety tests (FSTs). Eventually, you blow into a handheld device known as a preliminary alcohol device (PAS).

The officer believes you're intoxicated, places you under arrest and takes you to the San Diego Central Jail for booking and your choice of a blood or breath test. You choose a breath test and blow into an instrument called the Dräger. Results aren't looking good. You'll be spending the night in jail. Next stop, arraignment in the Central Courthouse. Here's some basic information on your San Diego DUI case.

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: Vehicle Code 23152 (a): You weren't able to drive safely and the officer could see 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% or Higher: Vehicle Code 23152 (b): Your BAC is at or above the legal limit of 0.08%.

Aggravating Circumstances

You'll face enhanced penalties in any of the following:

  • High BAC: Drive with a BAC of 0.15 or higher and you'll face stiff penalties.
  • DUI with A Child Under 14 As a Passenger: It doesn't matter the reason. 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 Bodily 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;
  • Causing serious injury or death while driving;
  • Having a prior felony DUI on your record.


In some situations, you'll spend the night in jail and 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.

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. If the judge binds you over for trial, new dates will be set for the "readiness conference" and trial.

Readiness Conference

Readiness conferences are where the plea negotiations take place in both felony and misdemeanor cases. In a misdemeanor, it'll happen after the arraignment. For a felony, the readiness conference is held after the preliminary hearing, usually within two weeks, and is the first hearing in the superior court, where your felony case will stay.


You've rejected the plea 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, a 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 at the scene, 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 order an IID if:

  • You had a BAC of at least 0.15%;
  • You had moving violations prior to the DUI;
  • You had prior DUI convictions within ten years;
  • You refused the chemical test.

Get Professional Help From a San Diego DUI Attorney

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 so you can skip the San Diego DUI. But if you are charged with alcohol-related driving offense, now is the time to get legal advice from an experienced DUI attorney in the San Diego area.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Complex DUI situations usually require a lawyer
  • DUI defense attorneys can challenge Breathalyzer/Intoxilyzer or blood test results
  • A lawyer can seek to reduce or eliminate DUI penalties
  • A lawyer can help get your license back

Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.


 If you need an attorney, find one right now.

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