Los Angeles DUI Defense Lawyer
Drunk Driving Attorneys in Los Angeles, California
When a person drives a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the legal limit, they will be charged with drunk driving. In California, people will be charged with DUI if their BAC level reaches or exceeds .08. DUI charges can also be filed against a person who drives under the influence of drugs. This includes both illegal drugs and prescription or over-the-counter medications. When a drug impairs a person’s ability to safely operate a vehicle, he or she will be charged with DUI, regardless if the drug in question was legal or illegal.
What happens after getting arrested for a DUI?
After being arrested for a DUI in California, the officer will notify you that your driver’s license will be suspended for 30 days. Your driver’s license will be confiscated and you will be issued a temporary one (pink sheet of paper) that will remain valid until the start of the suspension period. Meanwhile, your driver’s license will be sent to the California DMV and automatically suspended after the expiration of your temporary license.
Within 10 days of your arrest you may request a DMV hearing, which will stay the suspension of your driver’s license until the hearing has determined whether to suspend your license. This request may be made regardless if it is your first, second, third, or subsequent DUI offense. If a request is made, you will be able to drive while awaiting the hearing, which can take up to several months. An attorney may and should accompany you to the hearing. The DMV hearing is independent of the criminal court process. Therefore, if you do not retain a private attorney, a public defender WILL NOT be provided and you will have to represent yourself. The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether the arresting officer reasonably believed you were driving under the influence and that you were lawfully arrested. If represented by an attorney, the arresting officer may be cross-examined and subpoenaed by the attorney in order to expose any improper or unlawful acts conducted by the officer. The DMV hearing, including the officer’s testimony, will be recorded and may serve as a powerful negotiating tool to reduce your DUI charge to a lower violation. If you are unsuccessful at the hearing, the DMV may suspend your license for a period anywhere between four months to several years. If the DMV decides to suspend your license, first-time DUI offenders may be eligible for a ‘restricted license.’ A restricted license will allow you to drive to and from work as well as to and from an alcohol treatment program.
Regardless of the outcome of the DMV hearing, the arrest will still trigger the California criminal court process. Upon your release from custody, a “notice to appear” will be issued, providing the date and location of your first court appearance. This initial appearance is known as an arraignment where you will plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest to your DUI charge. Prior to the arraignment, your privately retained attorney or public defender will be provided with the police report and any other relevant documents related to your arrest. Further, the prosecutor will make you an offer proposing a sentence for your charge if you agree to plead guilty at the arraignment. If you plead guilty, then you will be sentenced by the court. If you plead not guilty, the court will proceed to the pre-trail phase. During this pre-trial phase, your attorney will negotiate a reduction in charges and a shorter sentencing term on your behalf. To strengthen your bargaining position, your attorney will raise legal defenses as well as challenge and review evidence being used against you. A vast majority of those being charged with a DUI will eventually agree to a plea bargain and no trial will occur. However, this process should be expected to take several months.
What are the penalties for a DUI?
The penalties for a DUI conviction in California will depend on the circumstances of the arrest. Most importantly, the penalties for a DUI will depend on the number of prior DUI convictions, whether a breath or blood test was refused, having a high blood alcohol content (BAC) percentage, and whether another person was injured or an accident occurred as a result of driving under the influence.
First DUI Offense. If it is your first time being convicted of a misdemeanor DUI, a court may order a jail term between 48 hours to 6 months and impose a fine between $390 to $1,000. You may also be sentenced up to 36 months of probation. Further, the DMV will impose a 6-month driver’s license suspension, unless you are able to convert your suspension for a 6-month restricted license instead. A restricted license will allow you to drive to and from work and to and from any court-ordered programs such as traffic school or alcohol or drug addiction treatment programs. To qualify for a restricted license, you must apply with your local DMV office and must:
(1) be over 21 years old;
(2) provide proof of enrollment in a DUI Offender Program;
(3) provide proof of insurance by filing an SR-22 form;
(4) install an ignition interlock device (IID); AND
(5) pay a reissuance fee of $125.
However, despite being a first-time DUI offender, if a breath or blood test was refused or the driver’s BAC was 0.20% or more, then the DMV will impose a 10-month driver’s license suspension, the court will require the completion of a 9-month or longer alcohol/drug treatment program, and the offender will be ineligible for a restricted license.
Second DUI Offense. If you are convicted for a second misdemeanor DUI offense within 10 years of your first DUI conviction, the penalties will significantly increase. A court may sentence you to a jail term between 96 hours and 1 year, a fine between $390 and $1,000 as well as a variety of other fees and “penalty assessments,” and require the completion of at least an alcohol or drug addiction treatment program lasting anywhere between 18 and 30 months. Further, you may be sentenced between 3 to 5 years of probation. Judges also have the authority to add other penalties for a second DUI, including community service. Additionally, the DMV will also suspend your driver’s license for up to 2 years. For a second DUI conviction, in most cases you will still be able to qualify for a restricted license after 90 days of having your license suspended. The requirements for a restricted license are largely unchanged, however, you will be required to have an IID for at least 12 months. If you are unable to obtain a restricted license after 90 days of having your license suspended, you may apply again for a restricted license after 1 year of your conviction.
Third DUI Offense. For a third misdemeanor DUI conviction, the penalties will again be more severe. A judge may sentence you to a jail term between 120 days to 1 year, impose a $390 to $1,000 fine, and order the completion of an 18- to 30- month alcohol or drug treatment program. You may also be required to complete community service and will face additional fees and penalty assessments. Additionally, you may be sentenced between 3 to 5 years of probation. The court may impose up to a 10-year driver’s license revocation, while the DMV will suspend your license for a minimum of 3 years. However, after one year of actual suspension, you may convert your suspended license to a restricted license. The same requirements for obtaining a restricted license apply—most importantly, you must not have refused a breath or blood test nor have been convicted of a drug-related DUI. If granted a restricted license, you will be required to have an IID installed in your vehicle for at least 2 years thereafter. Lastly, a third DUI conviction within 10 years will designate you a “habitual traffic offender” for three years—meaning any traffic infractions committed during the three years will result in significantly higher penalties.
Fourth or Subsequent DUI Offense. If you are arrested for a fourth DUI offense within 10 years, including any “wet reckless” convictions, you will likely be charged with a felony, rather than a misdemeanor. A judge will sentence you to a term between 180 days to 1 year in jail or 2 to 3 years of imprisonment, a $390 to $1,000 fine plus additional fees and penalty assessments, and require the completion of an 18-month alcohol or drug program if one was not completed before. You may also be sentenced to a probation term between 3 and 5 years. The DMV will impose a 4-year driver’s license revocation, while the court may impose up to a 10-year revocation. As a fourth-time DUI offender you may only be able to apply for a restricted license after one year of actual suspension. If granted a restricted license, you will be required to have an IID installed in your vehicle for 3 years. You will also be designated as a “habitual traffic offender” for three years and any penalties resulting from traffic infractions will be greatly enhanced. Further, a felony conviction will also result in the loss of certain rights, such as the right to own a firearm and the right to vote.
DUI Offense Involving Accident or Injury (Felony DUI). If you were convicted of a DUI that caused an accident or injury to another, it will most likely be charged as a felony. Further, if you have a prior felony DUI conviction, an arrest for a subsequent DUI offense that would ordinarily be charged as a misdemeanor will be charged as a felony. The penalties for a felony DUI conviction will depend on the specific circumstances of your case. Generally, the penalty for a felony DUI conviction will include a prison sentence term lasting between 16 months and 4 years, a fine up to $5,000 (as well as additional fees, penalty assessments, and court costs), and the completion of a drug or alcohol treatment program. If an accident was caused or another person was injured, a court may order you to pay restitution to any victims as part of a condition of probation. Further, your driver’s license will be suspended up to 5 years. After one year of having your license suspended, you may be eligible for a restricted license for the remainder of your suspension. Further, a felony conviction will result in the loss of certain rights, such as the right to own a firearm and the right to vote.
People v. Watson is a 1981 California Supreme Court ruling that gave prosecutors the legal authority to charge second-degree murder in certain DUI accidents where someone was killed.
Typically, “Watson” murder charges are filed when:
- A defendant has at least one prior conviction for DUI, and
- The defendant was given a “Watson Admonition” in connection with that prior conviction
- The admonition is often included in standard plea waiver forms and read to the defendant by the Judge at the time of sentencing
- A Watson admonition advises a defendant that driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is extremely dangerous to human life and that a subsequent conviction may lead to the filing of murder charges where someone is killed.
- A Watson advisement is not required, however. A prosecutor may elect to file murder charges if there is a fatality and the prosecutor can prove “implied malice”
- Implied Malice may be implied where:
- The driver’s conduct shows a “wanton disregard” for life, and;
- The facts are such that the driver was especially aware of the risk his or her conduct created.
- The “implied malice” theory also assumes a defendant took DUI classes as part of his sentence obligations in the prior case or cases, and that DUI classes uniformly teach all students that driving while impaired can easily lead to serious injury or death.
Drug DUI Offenses. Whether under the influence of prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, marijuana, or any other controlled substance while driving, you will likely be charged with a misdemeanor DUI. However, often additional charges will be brought if under the influence of illegal drugs or if illegal drugs were found when arrested. If convicted of a drug DUI, the penalties are generally the same as an alcohol DUI conviction and will depend on whether it is your first, second, third, fourth, or subsequent DUI offense. For a first-time offender, a court may sentence a jail term between 96 hours and 6 months, 3 to 5 years of probation, a fine between $390 and $1,000 with additional and fees and penalty assessments, and require the completion of a drug treatment program. Drug DUI offenders are not subject to an administrative license suspension taken by the DMV upon arrest, unless a blood or urine test was refused. The court may sentence you to a 6-month driver’s license suspension, but can be reinstated showing: (1) proof of completion of a drug treatment program, (2) proof of insurance by way of an SR-22 form, and (3) the payment of a $125 reissue fee.
Will a DUI show up in a background check?
Misdemeanor DUI Conviction. Since a DUI charge is a criminal offense, a conviction will appear on both a criminal background check as well as a driving record check. However, after fulfilling all the terms of your probation, such as paying all your related fines or completing your assigned alcohol or drug treatment program, you may request a court to “expunge” or erase a misdemeanor DUI conviction from your criminal record. If you were denied probation, you will only be able to expunge your record after one year of your conviction. You also cannot seek expungement if you are currently facing other charges. If approved by a court, expungement will take around 3 to 4 months. Until you seek expungement, the DUI conviction will remain on your criminal record for life.
Felony DUI Conviction. If you were convicted for a felony DUI, you will only be able to expunge your record if you are able to amend your conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor. After the reducing your felony conviction to a misdemeanor, you may follow the expungement process described above. However, this will not restore your gun rights that were lost as a result of the felony conviction.
DUI Conviction as a Minor. If you were under the age of 18 at the time you were arrested for a DUI and tried as a juvenile, your juvenile records will not appear on criminal background checks. Upon completion of the probation terms, the court will automatically dismiss a juvenile case and all documents related to the case are then sealed and erased from the public record.
How can I fight a DUI charge?
Your best way of fighting a pending DUI charge is to hire an attorney experienced in handling DUI cases. There are many different ways to legally defend against a possible DUI conviction and may result in either getting the charge reduced to a lesser violation or dismissed altogether. This will likely occur during the plea deal negotiation process where either your retained private attorney or assigned public defender will raise a variety of legal defenses on your behalf and challenge evidence and claims being used against you. This applies to both the criminal matter as well as the administrative per se hearing where you have retained private counsel.
If it is your first offense and your blood alcohol level is marginal, an experience DUI attorney may be able negotiate a reduction of the charge to a “wet reckless”—a reckless driving offense involving alcohol or drugs. If your charge is reduced to a wet reckless, your driver’s license will not be automatically suspended nor will you be required to install an IID in your vehicle. Further, rather than being required to complete 3- to 9-month alcohol or drug treatment program, you will only be required to attend a 6-week alcohol education program (unless you have a prior wet reckless or DUI conviction). Similarly, if you are being charged with a felony DUI, an experienced DUI attorney may also skillfully negotiate a reduction of the charge to a misdemeanor, thereby greatly lowering the sentencing term and fines and avoiding the associated loss of gun ownership and voting rights resulting from a felony conviction. Although there are other possible negotiable plea scenarios, these are two common examples.
If you are charged with a misdemeanor, we typically appear in court on behalf of our clients which means you can focus on other things such as your job. We provide regular updates and let you know what the next steps are. If charged with a felony, we appear in court with you and answer questions that may arise. We are always prepared for our hearings and you will feel protected and confident in your counsel.
With almost 70 years of criminal defense experience, many of our referrals come from law enforcement, prosecutors, Judges, court employees and some of the largest law firms in the Country. We have represented police officers, judges, lawyers, doctors, corporate executives and others with freedom, reputation and careers at stake. We understand this is likely the most important moment in your life and we appreciate the opportunity to assist.
Unlike many internet lawyers that profess to be experts in criminal law, family law and personal injury, we have a well documented and proven track record in one area only. Criminal defense.
If you or someone you know has been charged with a DUI, contact the Goldstein Law Group today to learn more about how we can help you.
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