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California DUI Defense Lawyers

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 2020 is estimated to exceed 39,000,000 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 2021. However, with the presentation of COVID-19, people have left California for a variety of reasons.

The latest statistics available from the 2019 Annual Report of the California DUI Management Information System, authored by the California Department of Motor Vehicles, indicates 123,548 persons were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, medication or drugs (DUI) in California during 2017.  This represents a continuous decline, since the number of DUI arrests in California peaked at 214,811 in 2008.

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 driver’s 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.

With the advent of scientific tests to determine blood alcohol concentration (BAC), enforcement regimes now include assigning criminal DUI culpability for the offense of driving while having more than a prescribed amount of alcohol in the blood or breath. Notably, this does not preclude the simultaneous criminal prosecution and conviction of the older subjective test of driving under the influence. Blood alcohol concentration is measured as grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood, while breath alcohol concentration is measured as grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath. Interestingly, the volume of an individual's lungs is almost always less than one percent of the volume to which the breath is converted for reporting purposes. Moreover, the sample chamber of DUI breath test machines measures approximately 90 cubic centimeters and is less than ten percent of the lung capacity of any human being old enough to drive an automobile.

California Highway Patrol officers zealously enforce provisions of the California Vehicle and Penal Codes, which include the laws applied to those who are suspected, arrested and charged with driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol, medication or drugs and all related offenses. Additionally, local law enforcement officers of California cities and counties are authorized and encouraged to enforce the laws relating to driving under the influence. In fact, it is fair to say that these highly motivated California law enforcement officers and their supervisors have a zero tolerance when it comes to arresting those suspected of driving under the influence. Notably, driving while consuming an alcoholic beverage is also illegal in California. Additionally, it is also illegal in California for an open container of an alcoholic beverage to be present in the passenger compartment of an automobile.

Also part of the law enforcement team are California county prosecutors who are referred cases by county sheriff's deputies, local police and California Highway Patrol officers. A California prosecutor's primary duty is to charge and prosecute those arrested or suspected of having committed criminal offenses such as driving under the influence within the geographic boundaries of the State of California. County prosecutors are primarily responsible for prosecuting cases stemming from arrests or incidents alleged to have occurred within the geographic boundaries of the county which employs them. Similarly, federal prosecutors are responsible for prosecuting those arrested on federal property in California, such as the Presidio National Park in San Francisco or Moffett Field in Santa Clara County.

In addition to the criminal punishment of a person for driving under the influence, a local police officer, county deputy sheriff or California Highway Patrol officer will seize the driver’s license of a person arrested for DUI. This occurs when the person has a blood alcohol level (BAC) of .08% or greater or refuses to submit to a blood or breath alcohol test. In California, the suspension will begin thirty days after the arrest unless the person requests a hearing with the California Department of Motor Vehicles Driver Safety Office within ten (10) days of the arrest. The length of the suspension will depend upon whether the driver had any prior convictions within ten years of the present arrest or whether the driver arrested for DUI refused a chemical test. At a minimum, the license suspension will last for four months, but may extend to two or more years. If a person licensed to drive by another state was arrested in California, the privilege of that person to drive within the State of California will be suspended thirty days from the date of the DUI arrest. To prevent or delay the license suspension, a driver arrested for driving under the influence or driving with a blood alcohol level of .08% or greater must request a DMV hearing within ten days of the DUI arrest.

In order for a person whose driver license has been administratively suspended to regain their California driver license following a DMV suspension, the driver must enroll in a licensed DUI school, submit an SR-22 issued by an insurance company and pay a $125 license reissue fee to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. If the driver fails to complete the DUI school, the DMV will reimpose the license suspension. The California Department of Motor Vehicles will also reimpose the DUI license suspension if the driver fails to have their insurance company file the SR-22 form continuously for three years.

When a driver requests an SR-22 form from their insurance company, it will be known that the insured has probably suffered a DUI conviction because the most common reason the DMV requires an SR-22 filing is that a driver has been arrested or convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). The SR-22 filing provides a guarantee to the California Department of Motor Vehicles that an insurance company has issued at least minimum liability coverage for the driver and that the insurance company will notify the DMV should the insurance lapse for any reason.

Penalties for driving under the influence commonly include jail or community service, probation, fines, driver's license suspension or revocation, and mandatory attendance at driving under the influence schools. In some cases, a person convicted of driving under the influence will be required to install an ignition interlock device in their car which will prevent the car from being started if the driver has any measurable amount of alcohol on their breath. Notably, some jurisdictions may require a person convicted of DUI to forfeit or sell their automobile.

Accordingly, if you or someone you know is suspected, being investigated or has been arrested in California for driving under the influence or driving with a blood alcohol level at or above the legal limit, you need a highly trained California DUI attorney who specializes in defending those accused of driving under the influence in criminal courts and before the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Without such assistance, it is almost certain that a serious misdemeanor or felony DUI conviction and driver license suspension will follow.

Additionally, a person arrested or convicted of driving under the influence may suffer serious collateral consequences which can flow to non-citizens, those holding professional licenses, and those who work in specific occupations involving public trust or requiring security clearances.

In response to law enforcement and prosecutorial fervor, a small number of California attorneys and law firms specialize in defending those accused of driving under the influence or driving with a blood alcohol level at or above the legal limit before California and federal courts and the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Many well intending lawyers having no understanding whatsoever of this complicated area of the law, have sought and continue to seek to represent the uninformed public. Accordingly, it is critical that a person in need of a lawyer to represent them in a criminal DUI and California Department of Motor Vehicles DUI case ensure the attorney or law firm being considered is competent in this field.

In addition to being competent, it is important to confirm that attorney or law firm regularly takes driving under the influence cases to trial. There are law firms and attorneys in California who merely accompany a client to court to plead guilty. Additionally, it is important to confirm that the attorney or attorneys at a DUI law firm are members of professional organizations and regularly attend seminars focusing on training lawyers in the latest developments in DUI defense. Finally, it is wise for an individual considering hiring an attorney or law firm to represent them in a DUI case to actually visit the office and meet the attorneys, investigators and staff.

The attorneys and staff of this office invite you to read additional information contained on this website and welcome you to call our office, speak with and meet members of our firm.

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