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Social gatherings often involve alcohol, and sometimes, illegal drugs. It can be hard to pace yourself or abstain when you are having a great time at a party or restaurant. Unfortunately, “One more for the road,” can be one too many to make it home safely.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs – DUI – is usually a misdemeanor in California. You could be stopped by a law enforcement officer who believes you are driving erratically or unsafely; or you could be stopped at a sobriety checkpoint set up specifically to catch people driving under the influence. If you cause an accident while under the influence, the charges will certainly be much more serious.
Attorney Joseph T. Rhea, with many years experience in handling DUI cases, offers the following information:
If you are stopped on suspicion of DUI, the police will ask you to take a variety of field sobriety tests and to blow into a portable device which measures breath-alcohol. These tests are voluntary and you have an absolute right to refuse to participate. Unless you are confident that your blood alcohol level (BAC) is less than 0.08 percent, these voluntary tests may hurt your criminal case later on.
If you are arrested, however, you will be taken to jail or a booking station where you will be required to take either a blood or breath test. If you refuse to take a test after being arrested, your driver’s license will be suspended for a full year.
Once you are booked on the appropriate DUI charge, if you have a clean record, you will probably be released in a few hours on your promise to appear at a court hearing. You may be detained until the agency believes you are sober. You will receive a citation stating the date, time and place to attend the hearing.
So far, so good. But there is a little problem: Your driver’s license was confiscated by the officer who arrested you. He issued you a suspension of your license, and a temporary license, which you may use for 30 days. Your car was towed away and is now in storage at a tow lot, where it will cost you tons of money for storage fees. If you are lucky, you have family or friends who can pick you up and help rescue your car.
You will have to deal with two issues. First, there is the Department of Motor Vehicles. This issue must be addressed quickly. You have 10 days from the date of your arrest to demand a hearing; otherwise the DMV will automatically take your license 30 days after your arrest. You will have to retain private counsel to represent you at the DMV. Court-appointed lawyers are not available to assist. If you lose the DMV hearing, you will lose your license for up to four months, or longer if there was a refusal of tests.
Second, there is the criminal DUI case. Arraignment (the formal commencement of the criminal case against you) is usually scheduled for several weeks after your arrest. And, in most DUI cases, you can arrange to have a lawyer appear for you in court, pursuant to California Penal Code Section 977.
DUIs are often very defensible at both the DMV and criminal-court level. At the very least, you should have a lawyer represent you at the DMV hearing, in order to better assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
The consequences of losing a criminal DUI case are severe, ranging from 96 hours of confinement (or, usually, community service), up to six months in county jail. Second and third-time DUIs bring substantially more serious mandatory-minimum sentences.
In California, there are around 200,000 arrests each year for DUI. Statistics show that the median BAC of those drivers is 0.15%, and that about 80% of the drivers are male. A high percentage of drivers are in the 21-to-24 age group.
This article is part of an ongoing series of articles pertaining to legal issues relevant to the LGBT community, and is intended for general information purposes only – not legal advice. Christopher Heritage is an attorney in Palm Springs and San Diego, Calif., who focuses on LGBT estate planning, domestic partnerships, same-sex marriage, probate, trust administration, and bankruptcy. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be contacted at (760) 325-2020, or by email: email@example.com.
This column was originally published HERE.