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BLOG: Dealing With a DUI

Don’t be fooled when you hear, “It’s just a DUI.”

If you are charged with "driving under the influence," the charge is defined in the California Vehicle Code instead of the California Penal Code, but it's still a criminal charge that carries potential jail time for a first offense and mandatory incarceration for subsequent offenses. 

The Department of Motor Vehicles can also suspend your driving privileges.  And, should you get caught driving while your license is suspended for a DUI, jail time is mandated.

When pulled over for suspected driving under the influence, the officer will gather evidence to establish the probable cause necessary to arrest you for the crime. This will most likely include some testing. Balance and coordination tests, commonly called field sobriety tests, and a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) test will most likely be requested by the officer. Although it’s generally a good idea to comply with an officer’s request, many times motorists confronted with this situation are made to believe they must comply and actually you are not obligated to do so.

Among the field sobriety tests the officer may ask you to perform are those considered "standardized."

There are three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) that the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recognizes as scientific indicators of alcohol impairment:

  1. Standing on one foot and balancing;
  2. The "walk the line and turn test";  
  3. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test (the officer is watching for the involuntary jerking of the eyes, when the eyes slowly track an object).


Each of these "standardized" tests must be explained and administered by the arresting officer accurately in order for the test results to be properly indicative of substance impairment.

A competent criminal defense/DUI lawyer must know the proper administration of these tests for proper assessment of the strength of the case and for effective cross-examination of the officer should the matter proceed to trial or a DMV administrative hearing.

A skilled defense attorney, who is most likely qualified by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), can sometimes determine just from the face of the police report that the officer is not NHTSA-qualified, based on the recitation of his/her administration of the tests. Only an experienced defense attorney would notice this.

Upon an arrest for DUI, you are obligated to take either a blood or breath test (urine is tested if you are suspected of driving under the influence of drugs). Further, you will most likely be jailed at least to "sleep it off." Your vehicle may also be impounded.

The arresting officer will also take your license and issue you a temporary paper license, which is valid only for 30 days unless you take action to contest the DMV’s suspension of your driving privileges.

The DMV action for suspension is independent of the criminal case and is triggered simply by the arresting officer’s declaration that he/she had probable cause to arrest you for driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or greater. It is possible to get a reduced charge on the criminal case or even no criminal filing at all but still suffer the suspension from DMV. It is therefore imperative to simultaneously defend both the criminal and administrative actions.

During the litigation of your case there are many items of discovery a skilled criminal defense lawyer knows to obtain. These attorneys also know what any given DUI arrest is worth based on the specific facts of the particular case. Plus, they know how to successfully contest the DMV’s suspension of your driving privileges. 

I encourage you not to "go it alone." It’s important to have a competent defense lawyer to guard your rights; one who specifically knows DUI law and the pitfalls. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lightnapper September 13, 2012 at 01:17 AM
In CA, the DMV usually revokes your driver's license at the administrative hearing for that little legal maneuver. When we sign on the dotted line to receive our license, we agree to certain conditions of use, and we are automatically penalized-- administratively-- when we later renege on said agreement. So, while you may not have a misd. Criminal Court conviction-- or you still may depending the circumstances of the arrest-- the DMV will likely revoke your license; and, you will not be allowed to drive a vehicle at all. In LA, that's a hardship for many. Your advice of not providing evidence for LE might be appropriate for more serious offenses-- 2nd, 3rd DUI-- but for a first offense, the ramifications of that refusal could last 10 or more years. 10 years in LA without a license, rather than the customary 3 month suspension, and then a re-issued restricted license, could make a significant impact on someone's financial status. That might be something worth considering.
Angela Berry-Jacoby September 13, 2012 at 04:29 PM
CLARIFICATION AND CORRECTION ON LIGHTNAPPER'S COMMENT: If one refuses a chemical test on a first time dui, two things can happen: 1) on the criminal case, if the prosecution proceeds on the "(a)" count - driving under the influence in contrast to the "(b)" count - driving with 0.08% or greater, and you are convicted, the refusal can increase the punishment; 2) it will cause a ONE YEAR suspension of privilege to drive by DMV.
Lightnapper September 13, 2012 at 05:17 PM
@ AB-J Thanks for the clarification. I was rusty. Glad you jumped in to qualify that. What about a 2nd or 3rd--DUI, since many people tend to still drive under the influence even after a 1st DUI? Will the DMV sanctions for refusing the Chemical/Breath tests, or even the FST, be enhanced/automatic, etc? What are the penalties and administrative sanctions? And the economic implications of even 1 year w/o a license-- rather than a short suspension-- is still something to consider, especially if an individual is employed in LE, a professional driver or courier, a security guard, tradesman, or anything requiring a "clean" driving record.
Lightnapper September 13, 2012 at 06:15 PM
As I work to become non-rusty, here's something to seriously consider if you're employed as a commercial driver, or ever want to be. V.C. Sec 13353 Refusal of Chemical Test (b) If a person on more than one occasion in separate incidents refuses the officer’s request to submit to, or fails to complete, a chemical test or tests pursuant to Section 23612 while driving a motor vehicle, upon the receipt of the officer’s sworn statement that the officer had reasonable cause to believe the person had been driving a motor vehicle in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153, the department shall disqualify the person from operating a commercial motor vehicle for the rest of his or her lifetime. The other penalties for refusal of tests: 1st DUI-- 1 yr. suspension 2nd DUI within 10 years-- 2 yr. susp. 3rd DUI within 10 yrs-- 3 yr. revocation Under 21 you can't even refuse the PAS (preliminary alcohol screening) without 1-3 yr. sanctions. The nuances of DUI law are great. The decision to not provide evidence to LE should probably be discussed with a competent DUI attorney prior to drinking and driving, but who actually does that? And, in the end, is it actually worth the risk? I suppose if you already have a prior DUI, you need to address this. Still, if you have a prior DUI, and you're still driving DUI, what's going on? Maybe the 3 month Alcohol Diversion Class didn't pay off, and another 18 months and mandatory jail time might just help-- or not.
Angela Berry-Jacoby September 13, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Absolutely. Good recitation of the law

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