8 Steps of a DUI Case in California
Many people charged with DUIs for the first time have little understanding of the criminal justice process or what they might expect to happen with their cases. Some people arrested for DUIs have never had to deal with criminal charges and might feel frightened about how their lives might be affected. While each case has unique facts and circumstances and varying potential defenses, the DUI process remains largely the same. Here are eight steps in a DUI case that you might expect to occur from a Riverside and Santa Ana DUI lawyer at the Fontes Law Group.
1. The DUI Investigation
A DUI investigation can be initiated in one of the following four ways:
- An officer pulls a driver over for an alleged traffic offense or on a reasonable suspicion that the motorist might be impaired by alcohol or drugs.
- An officer pulls a driver over after randomly selecting the vehicle while it is passing through a DUI checkpoint.
- An officer stops a driver based on an apparent defect with the motorist’s vehicle.
- An officer responds to the scene of a motor vehicle accident.
Whether you were pulled over at a checkpoint, for allegedly committing a traffic offense, or for a defect with your vehicle, the officer’s investigation will begin as soon as they approach your vehicle. Police officers are trained to look for indicators of impairment, including the following:
- Odor of alcohol or drugs on your breath or in your vehicle
- Bloodshot or watery eyes
- Disheveled appearance
- Slurred speech
- Slowed or clumsy movements
The officer might then ask if you have had anything to drink or where you are coming from. They might then ask you to step out of your car and ask you to perform some standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs), which are a series of tests that are performed at the roadside. It’s important to note that you are not mandated to perform the field sobriety tests. However, if you do, the officer will make notes about your performance in their report.
The officer might also ask you to submit a sample on a portable breath test (PBT), which consists of a small machine with a tube that you blow into at the roadside. Like the SFSTs, you are not required to agree to the PBT unless you are on DUI probation under Cal. Veh. Code § 13389. The officer will use their observations of you and your driving and your performance on the SFSTs and the results of the PBT to develop probable cause to arrest you for a DUI. If you blow into the PBT and it returns a reading of 0%, the officer might call for an officer known as a drug recognition expert (DRE) to come to the scene. A DRE is an officer who has received additional training in recognizing the signs of drug impairment and who performs some additional tests.
After this short roadside investigation, the officer might take you into custody for allegedly violating Cal. Veh. Code § 23152 by driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
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2. Post-Arrest Testing
Once you are placed under arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence, you will be transported to the jail, police station, or hospital for a breath or blood test to check your blood alcohol concentration. Breath tests are performed at the police station or jail while blood tests are typically performed at a hospital. Blood tests might be used when the officer suspects you of being under the influence of drugs or when you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident and are injured.
The results of a breath test, which is called a breathalyzer test, are immediately available. Since blood tests must be sent to the lab for analysis, they can take longer to come back. If your results on a breath or blood test show a BAC of greater than 0.08%, you will likely be charged with both a DUI and a DUI per se under Cal. Veh. Code § 23152(a) and (b). If your results are less than 0.08%, the officer might ask you to perform a blood test or urine to try to develop evidence that you were under the influence.
While you don’t have to submit to SFSTs, you must submit to the post-arrest chemical tests. If you don’t, you could have a refusal added to your charges. Refusing a post-arrest DUI test can be used against you as evidence and can also result in an automatic suspension of your license for 12 months and a mandatory minimum sentence of 48 hours in jail.
You might be held overnight on your DUI charge or be released. While you are still in custody, the officer will tell you that your driver’s license has been suspended for 30 days and will give you a pink slip that will be your temporary license. Upon your release, you will be asked to sign a document agreeing to appear in court. Depending on your record and the circumstances of your case, you might instead have to post bail to secure your release. The officer will forward the DUI report to the prosecutor.
3. Retaining a DUI Lawyer Riverside or Santa Ana
While you are not required to retain a lawyer to represent you in a DUI case, it is a good idea to do so. Simply being arrested for a DUI does not mean that you will be convicted. With the help of an experienced DUI lawyer, you can identify potential defenses that might be available to you. In many cases, an experienced attorney can secure a favorable plea through negotiations with the prosecutor or possibly win the dismissal of charges, depending on the facts. If you are indigent, you might qualify for a public defender, who is a court-appointed lawyer who represents indigent people. While they are competent lawyers, they frequently have huge caseloads, preventing them from devoting much time to individual cases. Retaining an experienced lawyer from the Fontes Law Group can help to ensure your attorney will be able to spend enough time on your case to vigorously defend you against the allegations.
4. Administrative Hearing Through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
After a DUI arrest, the DMV will be notified about your DUI charge. You will face a 30-day suspension of your driver’s license unless you demand an administrative hearing on your license within 10 days of your arrest. This hearing might be conducted in person or by telephone. Upon your demand for a hearing, the DMV will stay the suspension of your license until after your hearing when a final decision will be made. If your attorney succeeds at your DMV hearing, you won’t receive the initial 30-day suspension of your license. However, your license might still be suspended if you are later convicted of the DUI.
At the DMV hearing, the hearing officer will consider whether the officer completed your arrest properly, review your BAC, and determine whether the officer had reasonable suspicion for the stop and probable cause to arrest you. Your lawyer can represent you at your DMV hearing. The DMV hearing is a separate administrative process from your DUI criminal case. If you lose the DMV hearing, your license will be suspended from four months to three years, depending on whether you have previous DUI convictions and your compliance with the officers who arrested you. You are much likelier to win your DMV hearing if you are represented by an experienced DUI defense lawyer.
The arraignment is your first appearance in court. At your arraignment, the court will read your charges to you. You can either respond by pleading guilty, not guilty, or no contest. A no contest plea is treated the same as if you pleaded guilty. At your arraignment, the prosecutor might also offer a plea deal to you in exchange for getting you to plead guilty. However, it is better to enter a not guilty plea at this stage.
When you enter a not guilty plea at your arraignment, it will give you and your lawyer a chance to review the evidence and reports the prosecution has against you. Your lawyer can challenge evidence that was improperly gathered and argue for the court to deem it inadmissible. Your lawyer can demand the prosecutor turn over all of the evidence, including the police report, the breathalyzer machine logs, the testing processes, the chain of custody logs for any blood samples, and others. Reviewing the evidence allows your lawyer to file evidentiary motions to keep some of the evidence out of your case.
If you plead guilty, you will be sentenced. Your case will remain open until you have satisfied all of the conditions the court imposes on you for your probation.
6. Motions and Plea Negotiations
When your lawyer reviews the evidence, they will look for problems with the state’s case against you. Police officers sometimes make mistakes in their stops, investigations, arrests, and testing. The errors an officer makes can help your attorney identify the best possible defense strategies to use in your case.
Your lawyer might file several pretrial motions, including a motion to suppress. For example, if the officer pulled you over without reasonable suspicion that you had committed a traffic offense and when your driving was fine, your lawyer might file a motion to suppress the stop. If your attorney succeeds at the motion hearing on a motion to suppress the stop, all evidence the police gathered against you after the stop would be suppressed. This would mean that the prosecutor would have no other choice than to dismiss your case. Your attorney might file a motion to suppress individual pieces of evidence even if the officer’s stop appears fine. For example, if there was a problem in the chain of custody for your blood sample, your attorney might file a motion to suppress your blood test results.
Your lawyer might also file a motion requesting a probable cause hearing which is called a preliminary hearing. This hearing allows your attorney to challenge whether the officer had sufficient probable cause to arrest you.
Once your lawyer has completed the investigation of your case and filed all of the appropriate motions, they will then talk to the prosecutor to negotiate. The prosecutor might then make a plea offer that is much more favorable than the initial offer you received at your arraignment.
Most DUIs are settled through the plea bargaining process before trial or through dismissal following the suppression of key evidence at a motion hearing. If your case does go to trial, you can choose whether to have a jury or bench trial. Since a jury is made up of multiple people rather than a single judge, most people choose to go to a jury trial instead of a bench trial.
At a jury trial, both your lawyer and the prosecutor will select the jurors. Then, the prosecutor will make an opening statement, and your attorney can also make an opening statement. The case will then start with the prosecutor presenting evidence against you and calling witnesses. When the prosecutor has rested, your lawyer will then present your defense. After your attorney has rested, both the prosecutor and your lawyer will make closing statements. Finally, the case will be sent to the jury. Following deliberations, the jury will render a verdict.
The prosecutor has the burden of proof to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If they cannot meet their burden, you can’t be found guilty.
If you plead guilty or are found guilty at trial, you will be sentenced. Some of the penalties that might be imposed include the following:
- Jail sentence
- Fines and penalties
- Suspension of your driver’s license
- Mandatory alcohol treatment program or classes
The specific penalties you will face will depend on your criminal record, your BAC, any plea agreement, and other factors.
Get Help from an Experienced DUI Defense Lawyer
Being charged with a DUI is a scary experience for most people. If you are facing DUI charges, contact an experienced attorney at the Fontes Law Group to request a consultation.