Articles Posted in DUI

Yes, Virginia, there is such a crime.

After leaving a bar, Mitch found his car had a flat tire. Although he was somewhat inebriated after drinking three beers, he was able to jack up his car, remove the lug nuts and replace the flat tire with his spare. As he was putting the flat tire in his trunk, car keys in hand, a police officer pulled up. Mitch wasn’t even inside his car, but the officer, having a reasonable suspicion that Mitch is under the influence and intends to drive his car, engaged Mitch in conversation. Before he knows it, Mitch is under arrest for attempted DUI.

Under California law, an attempt to commit any crime, even if that attempt fails, is prevented, or intercepted before it is committed is unlawful under Penal Code section 664. To prove that an individual  attempted a crime, there must be evidence that the individual had the intent to commit the crime and took a direct step towards committing the crime. In Mitch’s case, the prosecution may allege that the fact that he fixed the flat tire and had his car keys in hand showed he intended to drive his car and, had he not been interrupted by the officer, would have done so.

Military veterans arrested on a first-time DUI may be eligible for what is billed as a “therapeutic and support” alternative to the criminal proceedings that usually accompany a charge of driving under the influence (or alcohol or drugs). This alternative is codified into California law under Penal Code section 1001.80 and known as the “Military Diversion Program.” The Military Diversion Program is available to all current or former military veterans who meet certain criteria. It is available not only to first time DUI offenders but to all qualified veterans charged with many, but not all, first-time misdemeanors.

To qualify, the veteran (or currently enlisted) defendant must establish to the satisfaction of the court that he or she is suffering from trauma, substance abuse, or mental health issues as a result of military service. The trauma may be post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD, sexual trauma, or traumatic brain injury (TBI).   (As an aside, although only first-time offenders are eligible for this diversion, veterans who have been convicted previously may be eligible for Veteran’s Court. Veteran’s Court is not a diversion program but is an intra-agency collaborative effort between the court and the Veterans Administration to provide mental health treatment to the offender.)

The Orange County Military Diversion Program diverts eligible DUI offenders to mental health and abuse treatment programs, which upon successful completion the DUI charge is dismissed, and the DUI arrest is deemed to have never occurred. (There is one exception to this and that is if the former offender applies for a peace officer job, in which case, the arrest must be disclosed. However, this does not necessarily disqualify the applicant for the job.)

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drunk driving is responsible for approximately one-third of all traffic fatalities on our nation’s roads. In recent years, around 10,500 people lose their lives due to a traffic fatality involving a drunk driver. This does not even take into account fatalities that result from a driver under the influence of marijuana or other drugs. Driving under the influence is a persistent problem and a pandemic can’t stop it. In fact, the problem seems to have gotten worse during our bleak year of Covid-19.

The National Conference of State Legislatures recently took a look at the DUI arrests and fatalities related to drunk driving statistics across the states during the Covid-19 pandemic. Noting that while alcohol sales during the pandemic increased, some states, including California, seemed to experience a decrease DUI arrests and alcohol related traffic fatalities. Perhaps, it was conjectured, the decrease was due to strict stay-at-home orders in California. Not so fast: It appears to have been short-lived.

During the early months of the pandemic – March, April and May— CHP traffic reported a steep decline of 42% in DUI arrests decreased as compared to the same period in 2019.  However, by July, DUI arrests spiked and eclipsed the numbers seen in 2019. The July 4th holiday saw a large increase in DUI arrests when compared to the same period in 2019: 738 drivers were arrested for DUI between July 3 to July 5 in 2020 compared to 589 for the same period in 2019. Month-to-month from July to October saw an over 40% increase in DUI arrests over the same period in 2019.

Most Californians are aware that a DUI conviction costs more than just attorney fees and the fines and fees levied by the court. After a DUI conviction, insurance rates are bound to increase, there are costs associated with the installation and maintenance of an Ignition Interlock Device, DMV fees, and so on. But one cost that is sometimes associated with a DUI is rarely considered: Restitution. When a person driving under the influence causes any damage or injury, whether because the driver caused an accident or just ran into someone’s fence, that driver, if convicted on the DUI, will be ordered to pay restitution and restitution fees.

Depending on the severity of the injuries or damage, restitution can carry a hefty price tag. When injuries are involved, the court will consider the victim’s calculation of damages and as long as there is some reasonableness, will order restitution in the amount claimed by the victim. Thus, someone who was injured by a drunk driver may claim not only losses suffered due to the immediate injuries, but also future economic losses. For example, if the injuries prevent the victim from future earnings, the restitution order may include a calculation of lost future earnings, which if the victim is younger, could be considerable. What the restitution order cannot include are losses for pain and suffering. However, these losses are recoverable in a civil action.

In most cases, the DUI driver’s insurance will pay for the damages, but only up to liability limits of the policy. More often than not, the DUI driver’s insurance company will settle with the victim/plaintiff rather than take the case to a civil trial. This is a civil settlement and is considered separate from the criminal restitution order, but with usually with offsets to the restitution. What that means in practical terms can be illustrated by this example:

While most DUI convictions are misdemeanors, the conviction is entered on the offender’s California Department of Justice (DOJ) criminal history (often referred to as a “Rap Sheet”). This conviction remains on the individual’s rap sheet forever unless a successful petition for dismissal is brought forward. The petition for dismissal, filed under Penal Code section 1203.4, is often referred to as an “expungement” although the dismissal is not a true and complete expungement. (More about that below.)

If you have been previously convicted on a misdemeanor DUI offense (or even a felony DUI offense in many cases) and you have completed your sentence, you should file a petition for dismissal of the conviction. As discussed below, the imperative to do so is even greater now that the “Clean Slate Act” is set to go into effect on January 1, 2021.

First about the petition: Anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor (and some felonies) is eligible to petition the court to dismiss and set aside the conviction after completion of sentence. The right to have the petition granted is automatic for the individual who has successfully completed his or her sentence, i.e., without any violations of probation or subsequent arrests or convictions. For those who violated their sentence—usually this is a violation of a term of probation—the petition can still be filed and depending on the circumstances, the petition may be granted.  Once the conviction is expunged, the DOJ rap sheet shows the conviction is dismissed. After a DUI conviction is expunged, the conviction need not ever be disclosed on an employment application (with exceptions for certain positions such as a police officer) or on a housing application.

A woman driving her Chevrolet Camaro the wrong way on the 60 freeway in Diamond Bar collided with a vehicle killing all four occupants of that vehicle and two occupants in her car. She was rendered unconscious and was airlifted to the hospital. Approximately one hour later, the investigating officer arrived at the scene of the accident. He smelled alcohol in the Camaro and saw an open can of alcohol in the driver’s seat. Several hours later, the investigating officer responded to the hospital. Although the driver was unconscious, he could smell alcohol on her breath.

Because the driver was unconscious, the officer could not administer a field sobriety breath test. Based on the evidence, he placed the unconscious woman under arrest and requested that hospital personnel complete a DUI blood draw. The driver’s blood was tested and found to have a 0.15 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The driver survived and she was charged with six counts of murder.

The driver sought to suppress the warrantless blood draw evidence, but her motion was denied by the trial court. Ultimately, she pled no contest to the six counts and was sentenced to a term in prison of 30 years to life.

You get pulled over and the cop asks you: “Have you been drinking?” If you have been drinking, what should you say? Whether true or not, it is often reported that most people will answer, yes, but only one or two drinks. Well, the officer isn’t going to think, “okay, that’s not so much, I’ll let it pass.” That answer is going to be used by the officer to establish the officer’s suspicion that you are driving under the influence. From that point forward, the officer will probably ask you to exit the vehicle and submit to a Field Sobriety Test (FST). The officer’s goal is to establish probable cause to arrest you for driving under the influence.

It’s a bad idea to admit to any consumption of alcohol to the officer’s question, but you shouldn’t lie – that could get you in more hot water later on. What you should do is tell the officer that you respectfully decline to answer the question. Now, you may think this will cause the officer to suspect that you have indeed been drinking. And that may be true. But it is your legal right to decline to answer the question, as it is also your legal right to decline the FSTs, as you should—FSTs, including roadside breathalyzer tests, are voluntary. The officer’s questions and any FST are designed to establish probable cause to arrest you for driving under the influence.

If you don’t answer the officer’s questions or submit to FSTs, you can still be arrested for driving under the influence if the officer believes you are under the influence, but there will be less evidence supporting the arrest. It is important to know that once you are arrested, you cannot refuse a chemical test (blood or breath) without facing serious penalties. But depending on the result of that test, the prior observations of the officer may mean the difference between a DUI conviction and a dismissal of the charge or a conviction on a lesser charge.

In California most simple DUIs without aggravating circumstances are charged as misdemeanors. For certain professions, even one misdemeanor DUI can threaten a person’s employment.  A DUI conviction can result in the loss of a job or suspension of a professional license.

The most obvious risk of job loss following a DUI conviction is for those whose job requires driving, such as a delivery truck driver, a bus driver, or a ride-share driver (to name just a few). Some of these jobs require a commercial license. For these employees, a DUI conviction will almost certainly result in the loss or suspension of their employment (unless the employer can offer alternative work that does not require driving). Why? California law requires a minimum one-year suspension of a commercial license—even if the convicted driver was not driving a commercial vehicle at the time of the DUI arrest. It is important to note that the suspension of a commercial license is a consequence of a conviction, not the arrest.  If you drive a commercial vehicle for a living, it is of utmost importance to contact an experienced DUI defense attorney as soon as possible after an arrest on any DUI charge as you face not only the DUI penalties but the real possibility that you will lose your job. A skilled Orange County DUI defense attorney may be able to get the DUI charge dismissed or negotiate a plea bargain to a lesser charge, most commonly a “dry reckless”, that will not result in the suspension of your commercial license.

For others who drive for a living but do not need a commercial license to do so—couriers, taxi drivers and similar jobs— a DUI conviction may, and likely will, result in job loss. Under California law, taxi, limo, and ride-share companies are prohibited from hiring a driver who has had a DUI within seven years. That is any DUI… no requirement that the driver was on the clock at the time or had passengers for hire in the vehicle at the time of arrest. It is important to know that if the driver is carrying passengers, the legal blood alcohol content threshold for a DUI is 0.04%.  Any driver who works as a driver for hire must be immediately let go, under the law, once he or she is convicted of DUI.  Just like those who drive commercial vehicles for a living, these drivers face not only the normal DUI penalties, but the loss of their livelihood, making it imperative that the individual contact an experienced DUI defense attorney as soon after the arrest as possible.

            The world has certainly changed since COVID-19 introduced itself to humankind. Almost every aspect of our lives has been affected. In the realm of criminal proceedings, a lot has changed and that includes the DUI landscape.

  • Courts are closed to the public. Hearings that must be conducted pursuant to statute, are being held via video conferencing. Individuals charged with DUI may be arraigned via a video appearance. Those who have already been arraigned and have a hearing scheduled may continue their hearing to a later date or appear via video. DUI plea agreements and trials have been suspended for now, absent good cause to proceed.
  • There appears to be a halt in DUI checkpoints. For example, a review of the Orange County DUI checkpoints on the Orange County Sheriff Department’s news archive reveals that the last checkpoint conducted by that agency was February 21, 2020. There are reports, although not confirmed, that Los Angeles County has halted all DUI checkpoints. A look at the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department shows that the last checkpoint was conducted on March 13, 2020. This is to be expected. With bars and restaurants closed, there is less reason to conduct sobriety checkpoints.

Every parent’s nightmare is that their child will die before them. The tragedy is compounded when a child is killed by a drunk driver. But what if you are that DUI driver and you cause the death of your own child. Just this week, a Los Angeles mother was driving under the influence with her two infant twins and a toddler in her car when she caused an accident. One of the infants died and the other two suffered injuries. The mother came out with minor injuries. This driver was driving at a high rate of speed and crossed over into oncoming traffic. She was probably heavily under the influence, although her impairment levels have not been made public yet.  She faces manslaughter charges, possibly a second-degree murder charge.

Parents driving under the influence and causing their own child’s death is rare. But a quick search of the news archives reveals many instances where this has happened.  For example, just this month a Maryland woman was convicted of manslaughter after six passengers in her vehicle were killed due to her drunk driving.  Five of those killed were children, and two of the children were her own. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The potentially tragic consequences of driving drunk are compounded when children are involved. In California, the vehicle and penal codes provide additional punishment for driving under the influence with a child in the vehicle. Anyone who is arrested for driving under the influence with a child 14 years of age or younger can also be charged with a DUI sentencing enhancement (Vehicle Code section 23572). Or the driver can be charged with child endangerment (Penal Code section 273(a)) if the child is under the age of eighteen. It is up to the prosecutor to determine the charge. A driver charged under both code sections can only be convicted of one but can also be charged with the underlying DUI charge and neither of these charges will stand if the driver is not convicted of the underlying DUI.