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California DUI Defense Lawyers - DUI Law and Legal Information

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California is the most populous state in the United States and located along the Pacific Ocean between the states of Oregon to the north, Nevada to the east, Arizona to the southeast, and the Mexican state of Baja California to the south. California was admitted as the 31st state on September 9, 1850 and is the third largest state geographically. The capital of California is Sacramento and the state's four largest cities are Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco. There are 58 counties in California and San Francisco is both a city and county.

The people who have settled in California were and are ethnically diverse, joining the linguistically and ethnically diverse population of Native Americans who already occupied the state at the time of European contact. The population of California in 2008 is estimated to exceed 37,000,000 and if a country, would be among the 40 most populous in the world. People have migrated to California primarily seeking economic opportunities present within the state, beginning with the Gold Rush of 1848 and extending through the technology boom in Northern and Southern California as of this writing in 2008. The latest statistics available from the California Department of Motor Vehicles indicates 180,957 persons were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, medication or drugs (DUI) in California during 2004.

Driving under the influence of alcohol (also termed driving while intoxicated, drunk driving, drinking and driving, drink-driving), is the act of operating a motor vehicle (and even a bicycle, or boat in California) after having consumed alcohol, medication, drug or other substance, to the extent that mental and motor skills are impaired to the degree that the driver is unable to drive a motor vehicle with the caution and care of a sober person. In states other than California, the specific criminal offense may be called driving while intoxicated (DWI), driving while impaired (also DWI), operating while intoxicated (OWI), operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OMWI), driving under the influence of alcohol, medication or other drugs (DUI), driving under the combined influence of alcohol and/or other drugs (DUID), or driving under the influence per se (DUI). Irrespective of what the offense is called elsewhere, in California the DUI laws also apply to boating, piloting aircraft, and bicycling. Notably, driving under the influence is a crime in most countries around the world.

All 50 states now have two statutory offenses for what is commonly called drunk driving. As with California, the first offense is the traditional common law offense, variously called driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), driving while intoxicated/impaired (DWI) or operating while intoxicated/impaired (OWI). The second more recent offense is so-called per se offense of driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or greater. While the first offense requires proof of being under the influence (although evidence of blood or breath alcohol concentration is admissible as presumptive evidence of intoxication), the second DUI offense requires only proof of blood or breath alcohol concentration at the time of driving. Although a person accused of driving under the influence may be convicted of both driving under the influence of alcohol, medication or drugs and driving with a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .08% or greater, California law permits punishment for only one DUI offense stemming from a single DUI arrest.

Some states have also enacted a lesser charge of driving with a BAC of 0.05%. Still other states limit this offense to drivers under the age of 21. All states, including California, have enacted zero tolerance laws, allowing the Department of Motor Vehicles of the respective state to suspend the driver license of anyone under 21 driving with a BAC of .01% or higher. A minority of states allow those under 21 years of age to drive with up to a .02% blood or breath alcohol concentration. California has adopted the zero tolerance approach and the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will suspend the driverís license of anyone under 21 years old for one year who drives with blood or breath alcohol concentration of .01% or greater. California courts have upheld the suspension of a driver under 21 years old whose breath alcohol concentration was traced to the consumption of cough medication for a legitimate medical purpose.

It is also a criminal offense in all states to drive a vehicle while under the influence of medication or drugs (DUID), or under the combined influence of alcohol, medication, drugs or other substances. Notably, the drugs themselves need not be illegal, but can be prescribed medication or even over the counter medication such as cold or flu medication. However, conviction for driving under the influence of drugs or medication requires evidence of medication or drug impairment or impairment due to the combined influence of medication, drugs and/or alcohol. Predictably, some states have passed laws making driving with the mere presence of certain drugs a criminal offense. California criminal courts have again taken the lead and upheld the conviction of a person who drove after consuming tea and admitted feeling certain effects.

Anti drunk driving advertising and lobbying campaigns have been directed at raising the awareness of the social and legal issues related to the dangers of driving while intoxicated. Anti drunk driving lobbyists point to questionable statistics indicating that driving under the influence is responsible for a large number of deaths, injuries, and automobile accidents every year. In California, anyone convicted of injuring or killing someone while under the influence of alcohol, medication or drugs may be convicted of a felony DUI and will receive a lengthy jail or prison sentence and be separately subjected to civil liability.

The various versions of "driving under the influence" laws generally constitute misdemeanor offenses punishable by up to one year in the county jail. However, a DUI offense may be elevated to a felony and punished by a longer term in state prison if the incident caused injury (felony DUI), death (vehicular manslaughter or vehicular homicide), or if the defendant has a designated number of prior DUI convictions within a given time period (in California three prior convictions within 10 years will result in the fourth offense being charged as a felony DUI.). California, which is being followed by a growing number of states, now charges second degree DUI murder where the legal state of mind of implied malice exists as contrasted with express malice. Implied malice may be proven where DUI driver exhibited a reckless indifference to the lives of others. The California Supreme Court has upheld a second degree murder conviction under an implied malice theory.

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) considers its core mission as being to ensure safety and enforce traffic laws on state highways and county roads in unincorporated areas. The CHP's overall level of staffing has been about 10,300 since 2006. Notably, the department is comprised of uniformed (sworn) and nonuniformed (nonsworn) personnel, with uniformed personnel accounting for approximately 7,200 positions, or 70 percent of total staff. Roughly two-thirds (4,700) of the California Highway Patrol's overall uniformed personnel are assigned to patrol duties on roadways throughout the state. The California Highway Patrol's remaining uniformed personnel (2,500) perform various nonpatrol functions for the agency.

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