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Driving Under the Influence

Drivers in California DUI cases typically are charged with two different offenses - driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, in violation of California Vehicle Code Section 23152 subdivision (a). The second DUI charge is for driving with a blood alcohol level (BAC) at or above the legal limit of .08 percent or greater in violation of California Vehicle Code Section 23152, subdivision (b), meaning driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent or greater. If a DUI arrest involved an accident resulting in an injury to a person other than the individual arrested for driving under the influence (DUI), a more serious felony DUI may be charged in violation of California Vehicle Code section 23153, subdivision (a) and California Vehicle Code section 23153, subdivision (b).

A skilled Northern California DUI defense lawyer can help to navigate the California Superior Court system and launch a defense against both charges.

The charge of driving under the influence centers on whether the driver was mentally or physically impaired as the result of consuming alcohol, drugs (DUID), or a combination of alcohol and drugs. The legal definition for being "under the influence" in California is similar to that in other states. In order to be considered under the influence, the driver's "physical or mental abilities are impaired to such a degree that he no longer has the ability to drive a vehicle with the caution characteristic of a sober person or ordinary prudence, under the same or similar circumstances."

Prosecutors usually rely on circumstantial evidence as proof that a driver was under the influence. Circumstantial evidence is different from direct evidence - circumstantial evidence merely suggests that something is true. A prosecutor will seek to introduce evidence of driving patterns, physical observations such as slurred speech, odor of alcohol, unsteady gait, or red eyes, field sobriety tests, and chemical test results.

California law enforcement officers including members of the California Highway Patrol (CHP), local police officers, or sheriff's deputies and prosecutors rely heavily on field sobriety tests, but this evidence is flawed and can be challenged in criminal DUI court. To understand why, it's useful to understand how alcohol affects the human body. Experts agree that when dealing with impairment from alcohol, mental impairment always precedes physical impairment. This is one reason that field sobriety tests are divided attention tests - they seek to determine whether the motorist is suffering from any mental or physical impairment. Physical impairment alone is not evidence of being under the influence. If a motorist is demonstrating physical impairment, but no mental impairment, then the impairment must be coming from a source other than alcohol. Physical impairment can stem from any number of sources.

As an example, the arresting officer may interpret a driver's red and watery eyes or inability to stand on one foot as a sign that the driver was intoxicated. However, irritated eyes can stem from any number of factors - fatigue, allergies, air pollution, etc. An inability to balance on one foot can be attributed to injury or poor balance.

Although the prosecutor wants the jury to believe that circumstantial evidence of intoxication is solid proof, the "signs" of being under the influence can be attributed to any number of factors. An experienced California DUI defense lawyer can attribute circumstantial evidence to illness, injury, or other conditions, and use that information to help a client win his or her DUI case.

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