DUI Attorneys in Bakersfield, California
The lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic were good for reducing driving under the influence (DUI) arrests in California. During the first half of 2020, DUI arrests plummeted 42% from 7,220 to 4,223 from the year earlier, according to Breathe Easy Insurance. Of course, bars and restaurants were closed during most of that period, and now that they’re reopening, matters could return to normal, as people are now doing their drinking in public establishments rather than at home. In fact, over the New Year’s holiday of 2020, while restrictions were still loosened a bit, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) reported 491 arrests for DUI — or one about every four minutes.
If you’ve been pulled over and taken in to be charged for DUI in or around Bakersfield or Lamont, California, or anywhere in Kern County, contact our team at Underwood Law Firm. We’ll look over all the details of the charges against you and prepare a thorough and meticulous DUI defense.
DUI Charges in California
California has two statutes governing driving under the influence, and you will usually be charged with both. Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC makes it illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol, and Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC makes it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or greater.
A DUI is generally initiated by a law enforcement officer who notices someone driving erratically — speeding, swerving, or changing lanes frequently. These actions give the officer what is called “probable cause” to pull you over and administer a breathalyzer test.
Even if you’re not driving — say you’re sleeping off the alcohol in your parked car — you can still receive a DUI charge so long as you have the ability to drive the car, which means you have the keys in your possession or they are readily available.
Can you refuse to take a breathalyzer test? Yes, you can. It is not mandatory. It is used by the police to establish further probable cause for issuing a DUI charge.
In fact, unless you know your BAC is lower than the 0.8% limit, it’s probably a good idea to refuse the test. Of course, they will then take you in for a chemical test. The catch here is that, even if you submit to the breathalyzer or field sobriety test, they’re going to haul you in for a chemical test anyway, which is required by law.
If you refuse the chemical test, you will be charged with a DUI and further penalized by extra time in jail (up to an additional 48 hours), a one-year suspension of your driver’s license, and an extra six months of DUI school. The chemical test is mandatory under California’s “implied consent” law for all licensed drivers.
Most DUIs are charged as misdemeanors — unless they result in injury or death, which then can raise the charge to a felony. A fourth DUI can also rise to the level of a felony.
Penalties for a first-time DUI include up to six months in county jail, a fine of $390 to $1,000, and the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) for six months (at your cost) on all of your vehicles. If you do not accept the IID, your license will be suspended for four months, with a provision to get a restricted license after 30 days.
If there are injuries involved in a first-offense DUI and it’s charged as a misdemeanor, jail time increases to up to one year in county jail, a fine of up to $5,000, a license suspension of up to one year, and DUI school of three, 18, or 30 months. If it is charged as a felony, you can serve 16 months to 16 years in state prison in addition to the other penalties for a misdemeanor injury charge.
Penalties increase with each subsequent DUI, again depending on whether an injury or death is involved. California DUIs are “priorable” offenses, meaning that the consequences of a DUI conviction get more serious with each successive drunk driving conviction that takes place within a 10-year period.
What to Expect with a DUI Charge
At Underwood Law Firm, we’ve handled countless DUI defense cases. We’ll walk you through the process to give you added peace of mind. There are three main parts to every DUI case:
Arrest: The officer who pulls you over will ask you to blow twice into a breathalyzer. You can refuse, as noted above. In either case, you will be taken in for a mandatory chemical test. Upon release, you should be given two documents: a citation and a pink temporary license (your actual license will be withheld).
DMV: You are allowed to challenge the seizure of your license by requesting a hearing with the Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days. We can request the hearing for you and even attend the meeting on your behalf. The hearing will determine if you get to keep your license or not.
Court: Unless you need to testify, we can attend all court proceedings on your behalf. It may be possible to obtain a plea settlement, but if not, we can proceed to a trial.
If matters do go to trial, we can challenge probable cause — whether the officer even had enough reason to pull you over in the first place. People can drive erratically — even when sober — if they are distracted or inattentive. California law also specifies certain procedures for administering the breathalyzer, and the breathalyzer itself must be continually calibrated. We can challenge on both of those fronts.
Even the chemical test can be challenged. Chain of custody is a big issue in the chemical testing process, and samples can become contaminated or confused with another person’s test as they are handled along the chain.
The Importance of Legal Counsel
If you get a DUI, especially a first-time citation, you may shrug it off and say to yourself: “What can I do? They got me.” However, the last thing you want to do is leave your fate to prosecutors, who will more often than not go for the jugular.
The consequences will not only be possible jail time, fines, DUI school, and a driving suspension, but your insurance premium will likely skyrocket if they don’t cancel you outright. Plus, you’ll be thrust into a 10-year time warp when anything you do on the highway might get you pulled over and subject to another DUI.