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California Intoxicated Driving FAQ

Driving while intoxicated (DWI), operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI), or driving under the influence (DUI) are all ways to describe the same legal concept: intoxicated driving. Intoxication may be the result of alcohol or another chemical substance (e.g., marijuana) or both. To be a criminal offense in California, your blood alcohol content must be at or above the legal limit of 0.08, or if you are determined to have an illegal chemical substance in your system, or if the officer believes that your driving abilities were otherwise impaired.

In California, there are many arrests made daily for intoxicated driving. Those arrested are often people like you and me: law-abiding citizens. At Beahm Law, our DUI defense lawyers work hard to help you beat a DUI charge or to, at a minimum, get the best possible outcome in your unique situation. Contact us at 415-493-8677 to learn more about how we will help you. In the meantime, here are some of the most commonly asked questions we get from our clients when we first meet them about their intoxicated driving charge.

What is “blood alcohol content” level?

Blood alcohol content (BAC) is a measurement of the amount of alcohol found in the blood expressed as a percentage. It is calculated in grams per 210 liters of breath, and a BAC of 0.08 means there is 0.08% alcohol by volume. Measuring BAC is a way for law enforcement to calculate the amount of alcohol someone has had and their ability to drive a motor vehicle. 

What are my rights during DUI traffic stops?

If you are pulled over due to suspicion of drunk driving or pulled over for a traffic stop and then the police officer suspects intoxicated driving, you should remember you have certain rights as a U.S. citizen. Namely,

  1. The driver and any passengers have the right to remain silent (except you must show the police your driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance upon request); and
  2. If you are a passenger, you are free to leave.

If you are arrested or detained, you have additional rights, including Miranda warnings.

  1. You can say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately.
  2. You have the right to make a local phone call.

If you believe your rights were violated in any way, try to write down everything you remember, including the police officer's agency (state police, county police, etc.), badge number, and patrol car number.

Can I refuse a breathalyzer test in California?

You can refuse a breathalyzer test. These are portable instruments police have with them to test your breath for alcohol. The results of these tests are typically not admissible if you are, in fact, arrested and charged with an intoxicated driving offense.

Refusal, however, carries with it significant consequences. Those consequences depend on your jurisdiction, but you can expect any of the following:

  • Your license may be suspended.
  • You may be sentenced to jail time.
  • You may still face a DUI charge based on other criteria, such as field sobriety test results, witness testimony, and the police officer's observations.
  • You may be fined.

Also, if you refuse, the police officer may request a warrant to take a blood sample. Blood tests are more reliable than breath tests, and they can be more challenging to defend against if a case is filed against you.

What are standardized field sobriety tests (FSTs)?

Standardized field sobriety tests (FSTs) are tests approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These tests are allegedly designed to help police determine whether a driver is intoxicated or not.

There are three standardized FSTs:

  1. the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN test)
  2. the One-Leg Stand Test (OLS test)
  3. the Walk-and-Turn Test

The results of these tests may be used as evidence against you in an intoxicated driving case. Non-standardized tests, on the other hand, are not validated by NHTSA and are typically not admissible as evidence.

Non-standardized FSTs include:

  • finger to nose test
  • the finger count test
  • the hand pat test
  • the alphabet test
  • the reverse counting test
  • the coin pickup test

Can I refuse field sobriety tests in California? 

The ability to refuse a field sobriety test is allowed in most jurisdictions, although there may be consequences, such as being asked to complete a breathalyzer test or provide a blood sample. A refusal to complete a field sobriety test typically does not carry the same serious repercussions as refusing a breathalyzer test. 

After a DUI arrest in California, will my driver's license be suspended or revoked?

There are two different types of suspensions. The first is an administrative suspension, and many jurisdictions will suspend your license if you refuse a breathalyzer or have a BAC over a certain level. This means you can lose your driving privileges even when you have not been found guilty of driving while intoxicated or under the influence of a chemical substance.

The other type of suspension occurs when you are convicted of an intoxicated driving offense.  Whether your driver's license will be suspended or revoked depends on your jurisdiction, your BAC level, and whether this is your first offense. 

What happens after a drunk driving arrest in California?

If you are arrested for drunk driving, what happens next depends on the facts and circumstances. It's important to know that DUI arrests result in two processes after an arrest: (1) the administrative hearing, which results in civil penalties, like driver's license suspension; and (2) the criminal process, which can result in a conviction in the absence of a strong DUI defense. A conviction can lead to fines, driver's license suspension/revocation, imprisonment, ignition interlock device (IID) installation, and other penalties.

Can I still get auto insurance in California after a drunk driving conviction?

Your ability to obtain or maintain auto insurance after a drunk driving conviction depends on whether it was your first conviction. You will likely find insurance after a first conviction, although your rates will increase significantly. 

Note, however, that even if you have been convicted of only one drunk driving offense, you may still be required to obtain SR-22 insurance. SR-22 is a certificate of financial responsibility required by either your jurisdiction or a court order. This form is not insurance, but rather proof that your auto insurance policy meets the minimum liability coverage required by state law. A fee, which ranges from $300 to $800 on average, is most often charged to file this form.

Can I beat a drunk driving charge in California?

It is possible to beat a drunk driving charge, although it is not typically an easy process. It will require a thorough understanding of the law and a thorough understanding of the technical nature of field sobriety tests, breath tests, blood tests, and urine tests. Understanding the latter tests is critical to identifying errors (technical or human-made errors) to highlight the unreliability of the results.

Aside from errors or unreliable test results, an alleged DUI offender may have had their constitutional rights violated. This happens more often than you might imagine. A violation can lead to the inadmissibility of some or all evidence. Without sufficient evidence, the case will be dismissed, or a jury may return with an acquittal.

You will need a drunk driving defense attorney to help you beat an intoxicated driving charge. These cases can be highly technical, as much as legally complex.

Can I just plead guilty to drunk driving?

An arraignment is a hearing where the defendant can plead guilty, no contest, or not guilty. You can plead guilty, but the real question is whether you should or not. It would be a mistake to plead guilty at this time, especially without the counsel of a drunk driving lawyer in California, and there are multiple reasons for this.

  1. If you plead guilty immediately, you lose any opportunity to fight the DUI charge.
  2. If you plead guilty immediately, you also lose any opportunity for a plea deal, if that is what would be best in your unique circumstances. Admittedly, a plea deal means you would plead guilty, but the process can render a better outcome than an immediate plea of guilty. In some jurisdictions, you may be able to plead down to a lesser offense.
  3. The sentencing is often harsher when given in response to a plea of guilty during the arraignment, as opposed to what a plea deal would entail or a sentencing after a conviction would impose. The reason is simple: you have time to mitigate and negotiate.

If it's your first drunk driving charge, it can be tempting to plead guilty right away so that you can get the case over faster and get on with your life. But if you do not fight to get the charge dismissed or to get yourself acquitted, it will be your first drunk driving charge. With the latter on your record, you want to keep in mind that subsequent DUI convictions will assuredly lead to harsher penalties.

Do I need a drunk driving lawyer in California to win my DUI case?

If you plan to fight your drunk driving charges, it is in your best interest to have an attorney represent you. The law can be complex. The evidence can be highly technical and scientific. Police and state expert testimony can be damaging. All these things can lead to a conviction, unless you have the necessary skills and knowledge to successfully counter them. Most alleged DUI offenders do not have that kind of knowledge and skills.

At Beahm Law, we know the law and the technical, scientific make-up of field sobriety tests, blood tests, breath tests, and urine tests. We also know how to identify and proactively address any constitutional rights violations to benefit your case. Contact our DUI defense lawyer in California today at 4154938677 to schedule a consultation and get honest advice on your best legal options.

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Beahm Law, PC is committed to answering your questions about Personal Injury and Criminal Defense law issues in California.

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