Articles Posted in DUI

The issue of warrantless blood-draws has been the focus of several high-profile Supreme Court opinions over the past few years. The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in another DUI case involving the warrantless blood-draw of an unconscious motorist. The issue before the Court in Mitchell v. Wisconsin was whether a statute that authorizes a blood-draw from an unconscious motorist is lawful under the Fourth Amendment. Whatever the Supreme Court decides will likely have a decisive impact on California’s implied-consent law and implied-consent laws across the United States.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested in May 2013 for driving while intoxicated. Police took him to the hospital, but the defendant became unconscious before he could provide consent to draw his blood. The hospital workers drew the defendant’s blood at the request of the police and without a warrant. The defendant’s blood-alcohol concentration was .222, and he was subsequently charged with driving while intoxicated.

The defendant argued that the blood test was not admissible in court because his blood was taken without a warrant. The prosecution argued that the police did not need a warrant to draw his blood under the state’s implied-consent statute. Under that state’s statute, by virtue of driving a vehicle, motorists provide consent to undergo blood, urine, and breath tests to determine the motorist’s alcohol or drug content. The state’s supreme court upheld the search as lawful, ruling in the state’s favor 5-2. However, there was no consensus on the reasoning as to why it was lawful. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision is still pending, and is expected later this year.

The Court of Appeals, Sixth Appellate District recently issued an opinion ordering a trial court to reconsider a military service member’s request to enter into a diversion program. The defendant was an active duty member of the Army Special Forces Group, who was stopped by police after they allegedly observed him weaving back and forth while driving. The defendant’s blood-alcohol content was tested, and measured to be 0.16. He was charged with misdemeanor DUI with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of over 0.15 percent. Hoping to avoid a conviction and the potential collateral consequence it can bring, the defendant requested to enter a pretrial diversion program under the military diversion statute, Penal Code Section 1001.80.

Diversionary programs generally allow individuals to participate in a program for treatment and rehabilitation in lieu of progressing through the traditional criminal justice process. There are several diversionary programs in California. Under the Military Diversion Program statute, a trial court can place a defendant charged with a misdemeanor in a pretrial diversion program. The court must determine that the defendant: (1) was or is a member of the U.S. military, and (2) may be suffering from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, sexual trauma, or mental health problems as a result of his or her military service. If the defendant completes the requirements of the diversion program, the charges are dismissed. These charges are also eligible for expungement.

In this case, the trial court denied the defendant’s request, and the defendant appealed. The appeals court held that the trial court improperly focused on the nature of the offense without considering the purpose of the diversion program. The court explained that the purpose of a diversion program is rehabilitation. Specifically, the Military Diversion Program is meant to help military service members postpone prosecution and obtain treatment for their conditions.

Many California DUI cases can be fought on a number of issues, ranging from motions to suppress chemical test results to arguing the operation element at trial. However, a truly experienced California criminal defense attorney can recognize when a client risks more by taking a case to trial than by pleading guilty. Indeed, prosecutors and judges often assign significant weight to a defendant’s willingness to take responsibility for his actions and may recommend or impose significantly reduced sentences in some instances.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an interesting opinion in a California DUI case requiring the court to determine if the defendant’s sentence following an open (non-negotiated) guilty plea must be reversed because she was sentenced by a judge other than the one who took her plea. The opinion is interesting for several reasons, in part because it acknowledges the reality that a defendant’s sentence can significantly depend on the propensities of the judge hearing the case.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was driving while intoxicated when she lost control of her vehicle. The vehicle rolled over, and in the process, the defendant’s eight-year-old son was thrown from the car and died. The defendant was charged with numerous offenses, including gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

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When someone is arrested for a California DUI offense, the arresting officer will likely ask them if they will consent to a chemical test of the driver’s blood, breath, or urine. Under California law, when a motorist is arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol “is deemed to have given his or her consent to chemical testing of his or her blood or breath for the purpose of determining the alcoholic content of his or her blood.” There is a similar provision for the suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs. Collectively, these are referred to as California’s implied-consent statute.

At its most basic, an implied-consent statute gives law enforcement the ability to test a person’s blood or breath after they have been arrested for suspicion of impaired driving. Of course, police officers are not entitled to physically force a motorist to provide a sample, so the importance of the implied-consent statute is that motorists who refuse testing can be subject to administrative and, in some cases, additional criminal penalties.

Before police are able to rely on the implied-consent statute, it must be established that the motorist was “lawfully arrested” for suspicion of impaired driving. Additionally, the motorist must be provided with certain warnings. If a motorist’s arrest is not lawful, or the police officers involved in the case fail to follow the proper protocol, any evidence or test results obtained may be suppressible.

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Police, lawmakers, and judges take California DUIs very seriously. To discourage people from engaging in drunk driving, California lawmakers have enacted a strict set of penalties that escalates with each prior conviction for DUI. However, even first-time California DUI offenders can face significant penalties.

There are two categories of penalties that can be imposed on those who have been charged with a California DUI offense: administrative and criminal penalties. Administrative penalties most notably involve the suspension of a defendant’s driving privileges. Typically, when a driver is arrested for a California DUI, their license will be revoked, and they will be issued a temporary restricted license. This license will naturally expire at the end of 30 days, unless the driver requests a hearing. This may result in the driver’ privileges being reinstated for limited purposes only, pending final resolution of the case.

Importantly, the administrative consequences of a DUI arrest occur regardless of whether the driver is actually convicted of the offense. Separate from the administrative consequences of a DUI arrest are the criminal penalties that will be imposed by the court. Some penalties will only be assessed if a driver is found guilty of a California DUI offense.

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At the beginning of the year, a new law went into effect that will result in some first-time California DUI offenders being required to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle. The concept for the bill originated as a pilot program in Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Tulare counties. However, after the program’s perceived success in those counties, the ignition interlock program was rolled out statewide with the passage of Senate Bill 1046. The law went into effect January 1, 2019, and will remain in effect until at least January 1, 2026.

What Is an Ignition Interlock Device?

An ignition interlock device is a small breath testing device that is installed inside a motorist’s vehicle. The device requires a motorist to blow into it before trying to start the car. If the driver’s breath has any alcohol in it, the car will not start. Ignition interlock devices require both an installation fee as well as a monthly maintenance fee. According to one local news source, the installation fee will be between $70 and $150, and the monthly maintenance fees will be between $60 and $80 a month. Both of these fees will be paid by the defendant, although there may be subsidies for some low-income defendants.

Who Will Need to Install an Ignition Interlock Device?

Under SB 1046, many people who are convicted of a California DUI offense will be required to install an ignition interlock device. The law provides that repeat offenders must install an interlock device on their vehicle for either one, two, or three years, depending on the number of previous convictions. In addition, if a first-time offender is found guilty of a DUI that resulted in injury, the motorist will be required to install an interlock device.

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