10 Stages of a California DUI
The lawyers at the San Diego DUI Attorney Law Firm can help guide you through the often complex DUI process.
An arrest for DUI can be an overwhelming process. Most arrestees will not know what to expect, and will likely have a number of unanswered questions. If you, or someone you know, has been arrested for DUI, familiarizing yourself with these 10 Stages can help in relieving the uncertainty of this difficult process.
Stage 1: California DUI Investigation
Typically, there are three ways a DUI investigation may begin:
- An officer stops your vehicle for a traffic violation,
- An officer stops you because something is wrong with the vehicle (e.g. a broken headlight or expired tags), or
- You are involved in an accident and law enforcement is called to the scene.
An officer may then report that you displayed, “objective signs of intoxication” and that they detected the “odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from your breath.” This may prompt roadside field sobriety tests (FSTs) to be performed on site. The results of these tests, as well as the officer’s observations, can lead to an arrest for driving under the influence under California’s Vehicle Code 23152a.
Stage 2: California DUI Arrest
After an arrest, you will be transported to either a jail, police station, or hospital to undergo a blood or breath test to measure your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level. Breath tests provide immediate results, while a blood sample may take several days to be analyzed by a laboratory.
If your BAC is higher than 0.08%, you will receive an additional charge of driving with an excessive blood alcohol concentration (California Vehicle Code 23152b).
You have the right to refuse to give a blood or urine sample, but the penalty for this refusal is often severe. You will still be arrested for drunk driving and a “refusal” charge will be added to your case. A “refusal” charge results in a mandatory penalty of two days served in county jail, and a license suspension of at least one year.
Depending on the specifics of your case and your criminal history, you may be booked or released following the results of the tests. However, officers frequently hold individuals in jail for several hours or even overnight.
During the arrest, you should also be informed that your driver’s license will be suspended in 30 days, and you will be issued a pink form that serves as your temporary license until the suspension goes into effect. Your state-issued driver’s license will be confiscated. Depending on the situation, you may be released after agreeing, in writing, to appear in court on a specific date or on bail.
A DUI report will then be submitted to the local prosecutor by the arresting officer. The prosecutor can then decide whether to formally charge you with a DUI or to abstain from filing charges.
Stage 3: Hiring your California DUI Lawyer
Many find this stage of the process to be intimidating and confusing, which is why the lawyers at the San Diego DUI Attorney Law Firm dedicate considerable time to speaking directly with you about the unique aspects of your case, and formulating a strong defense.
At this point, you will be given the option to hire a DUI defense attorney, accept representation from a public defender, or represent yourself. Unless you have specialized training as a California DUI attorney, it is strongly recommended that you do not represent yourself. You may find yourself overwhelmed and intimidated by the complex legal process, leaving yourself vulnerable to a weak defense.
If you are financially eligible to receive the services of a public defender (PD), you take several risks in doing so. Many public defenders are knowledgeable about the DUI process, but they have a very limited amount of time to dedicate to your case, and even less resources to formulate a worthwhile defense. Additionally, public defenders are randomly assigned to your case, which does not give you the freedom to choose someone you know and trust. Public defenders may also have relationships with prosecutors and judges.
When researching private DUI attorneys, you will come to realize that not all are equipped to handle the specific needs of your case, and may not be worth your time and money. Please choose carefully when selecting a private DUI attorney, as the wrong one could plead you guilty or take an unnecessary deal from the prosecution for financial gain.
At the San Diego DUI Attorney Law Firm, we understand that when you pay for the best, you deserve the best. Your private attorney will dedicate themselves to thoroughly investigating your case, negotiating and arguing on your behalf, and creating the most comprehensive defense strategy possible.
Hiring an experienced private lawyer who specializes in California DUI cases, is your best option to avoid or lessen jail time and to minimize DUI fines.
Stage 4: The California DMV
After your driver’s license is confiscated, it will be sent to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and will be suspended after your 30-day temporary license expires. This will happen automatically, unless you request a DMV hearing within 10 days of your arrest. A DMV hearing is either conducted over the phone or in person, depending on the situation. If you request a hearing, the license suspension may be delayed until the hearing is complete. Note that even if you win your hearing, you may receive a separate license suspension if you are convicted of a DUI in court.
The DMV typically asks three questions to determine whether to suspend your license or delay the suspension.
- Were you lawfully arrested?
- Was your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) 0.08% or higher?
- Did the arresting officer have sufficient probable cause to believe that you were driving under the influence?
You have the right to representation by a DUI attorney at your DMV hearing if you choose. The DMV hearing is separate from your court case, but having a private attorney present greatly increases your chances of avoiding a license suspension.
If you decide to represent yourself during your DUI court case, you will also be required to represent yourself during the DMV hearing. You will not be given the option of a public defender to represent you for a DMV hearing.
If you lose your hearing, the DMV will suspend your license for a time period of between 4 months and 3 years, depending on if you have prior DUIs, and if you accepted or refused a blood test.
There are numerous benefits to hiring a private attorney to represent you at your DMV hearing, including the possibility of restoring your driving privileges as soon as possible. It also allows your private attorney a chance to quickly expose possible misconduct by the police department, and find weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. If present at your DMV hearing, your attorney is better able to cross-examine and subpoena the arresting officer, if necessary, as well as use the officer’s transcript to negotiate a lesser charge in the court case.
Stage 5: California DUI Court Process
Following the DMV hearing, the California criminal court process will begin. Present at the case will be you, your California DUI defense attorney (if you chose to hire one), the prosecutor, the judge, and a jury in some cases.
The case will begin with an arraignment and conclude with either an acquittal or sentencing for the charges brought against you.
If you are convicted of the charges, your case will remain open in the California legal system throughout your probationary period until your obligations to the court are fulfilled.
Stage 6: DUI Arraignment
The arraignment provides your first opportunity to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the DUI charges brought against you. It also allows the prosecution the first opportunity to present you with an “offer,” which outlines a specific sentence in exchange for a plea of guilty. It is uncommon for negotiations to occur during the arraignment stage. Negotiations more commonly occur during the pre-trial (see Stage 8).
A plea of not guilty, put forth by the defendant or the DUI attorney, entitles your attorney to thoroughly examine and challenge the evidence provided by the prosecution. Your attorney may request evidence such as the complete police report and the maintenance records of the chemical testing instruments that were used during your arrest.
A plea of guilty will bring about the immediate closure of the case. (The exception to this is if the defendant needs to fulfill the terms of probation).
Stage 7: Common California DUI Defenses
A few of the many California DUI defense strategies include faulty equipment (e.g. blood and breath testing equipment), inaccuracy of the scientific calculations used to determine the charges, and/or illegal police investigation methods. These strategies, among others, can be utilized in private attorney’s negotiations during the pre-trial phase.
The more skilled and experienced your private DUI attorney, the more likely they will be able to build a strong defense and negotiate effectively on your behalf.
Stage 8: DUI Plea Bargains and Pre-Trial Motions
At this stage in the process, your private DUI defense attorney utilizes their wealth of knowledge of the legal system and dedicates considerable time to investigating every detail of your case. The length of time spent on this stage varies depending on the specifics of your case, which is why our attorneys will dedicate as many hours as necessary to build a winning defense.
Your private attorney will gather relevant evidence, and look into details that favor your case. This evidence will be presented to the judge and/or prosecutor in a way that allows your attorney to negotiate on your behalf and possibly dismiss or reduce your charges.
Often, prosecutors will contend that the best deal possible has been offered to you at arraignment, but a skilled private attorney knows that to be false and is often able to acquire a more successful outcome.
A pre-trial motion is a request made by your defense attorney that the court make a decision on a specific issue before the trial begins. This motion can greatly affect the trial, evidence, testimony, defendants, and the courtroom. Pre-trial motions may include, but are not limited to:
- A “motion to suppress” hearing, which asks the court to exclude evidence that was obtained illegally or will cause unjust prejudice against the defendant.
- A “pitchness” hearing, which would allow the private attorney to learn more about the arresting officer’s complaint history and possibly discredit the officer’s testimony.
- A “probable cause” hearing, which contests the validity of the officer’s initial traffic stop.
Once your attorney has gathered sufficient evidence, consulted with expert defense witnesses, and conducted pre-trial motions, plea bargains may begin. A plea bargain means both sides coming to an agreement on a particular issue out of court.
Stage 9: DUI Jury Trials
Most California DUI cases settle before this stage, but should you need to go to trial, expect the following:
- Jury selection
- Opening statements from the prosecution and defense
- The prosecution’s presentation of their case
- The dependent’s presentation of their case
- Closing statements
Note: A defendant can only be convicted of a DUI in California if the prosecutor convinces all 12 jurors to come to a guilty verdict beyond a reasonable doubt.
Stage 10: California DUI Sentencing and Punishment
If you are found guilty or plead guilty to DUI charges, a judge will determine your sentence. Punishment is contingent on the facts of the specific case and your criminal history.
Common California DUI penalties include:
- Revocation or suspension of driver’s license
- Required drug and/or alcohol programs (approved by the court)
- County jail or California state prison
If you, or someone you know, has been arrested for DUI the lawyers at the San Diego DUI Attorney Law Firm are here to help.
Contact our office today at 619-535-7150 for a FREE DUI consultation.