The acronym “DUI” stands for Driving Under the Influence. Every state has its own version of a DUI statute that exists to prohibit operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of, or intoxicated by, any substance that is known to impair a person’s motor skills.

Some states maintain different classifications for different types of DUIs, such as alcohol, illegal drugs, or over the counter medicine. Additionally, some states include other vehicles such as a bicycle, moped, or golf cart.

DUI may also be referred to as:

Any substance that impairs a person’s ability to safely operate a vehicle could be included in a state’s laws, including legal substances. Alcohol is the most commonly thought of substance. However, other substances that can be included in a charge for DUI include:

  • Illicit or illegal contraband drugs such as heroin, cocaine, PCP, etc.;
  • Marijuana;
  • Prescription medication such as painkillers, sleeping meds, muscle relaxers, etc.; and
  • Over the counter medicines, including antihistamines such as benadryl.

A DUI is defined under first offense DUI California DUI laws when a driver is charged with DUI for the first time. California’s driving under the influence laws have determined that it is illegal for a person to operate a motor vehicle with any of the following blood alcohol content (“BAC”) levels:

  • 0.08% or higher for the average licensed driver;
  • 0.04% or higher for operating a commercial vehicle; and
  • 0.01% or higher for any person operating any vehicle who is under the age of 21.

What Are Some Consequences for a DUI First Offense?

According to California law, DUIs are considered to be “priorable” offenses. What this means is that the punishment increases with each DUI conviction that takes place within a ten year period. However, even for first time offenders, the legal consequences of a DUI can be harsh. Most DUIs are prosecuted as a misdemeanor. However, some may be charged as a felony if it involves bodily injury and/or property damage.

A first time DUI fine in California will range between $390 and $1,500. A conviction can also carry the following criminal penalties:

  • Up to six months in a county jail;
  • A mandatory three-to-nine-month alcohol and/or drug education program;
  • Three year summary probation; and
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device for a specified period of time.

The California DMV may levy their own penalties which can include:

  • A six to ten month driver license suspension;
  • A restricted license; and/or
  • Being required to file an additional SR22 insurance, which is a type of automobile insurance policy for high-risk or DUI drivers.

Once a person has been arrested for a DUI, most states suspend their license immediately, pending the court date. If they are subsequently convicted of a DUI, they may have a longer suspension or revocation of their license. This is especially true if it is a second or more offense. There may be other restrictions on the defendant’s license as well, including:

  • Restricted to driving for work or school purposes only;
  • Complying with an ignition interlock device;
  • Not being allowed to consume any alcohol or substance while driving, even within the legal limit;
  • Not being permitted to transport children and/or other passengers;
  • Prohibition of driving a vehicle for pay, such as a taxi; and/or
  • Revocation of any secondary license, such as a CDL or motorcycle.

What Is Needed to Prove a California DUI First Offense?

Generally speaking, law enforcement begins their field testing on the side of the road where they pull over the driver who is suspected of driving under the influence. The following is a list of common police testing for sobriety after a traffic stop:

  1. Field Sobriety Tests: the police may ask the driver to step out of the vehicle, and perform a series of actions designed to test their balance and agility. These allow the officer to make observations and draw conclusions about the driver’s potential impairment from a substance. Such tests include:
    1. The one-leg stand;
    2. Walk and turn;
    3. Finger to nose; and,
    4. Observing any odor of alcohol or other substances such as marijuana, PCP, etc.
  2. Chemical Breath Test: a breathalyzer is used to measure the concentration of alcohol; and
  3. Blood or Urine Test: a medical professional will be required to draw the specimen. A lab will then test whether any substances are present, and the level of concentration.

The burden of proof is placed upon the state prosecutor. They must prove that the driver was under the influence at the time of driving, beyond a reasonable doubt. A person who has taken a breath or chemical test would not necessarily be automatically guilty. This is because the breath tests that are administered may sometimes have inaccurate readings. Additionally, the police officer administering the test may not follow the proper procedures.

Should there be any mistake in administering the test, or the calibration on the breathalyzers are not accurate, the test results could be suppressed. When the evidence is suppressed, that means that the evidence may not be presented to the court in proving the elements of the criminal offense being levied against the defendant.

In order to convict a driver of a DUI, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:

  • The police officer had probable cause to pull over the driver at the time of the arrest;
  • The arrest was lawful; and/or
  • The defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or the defendant was driving with an illegal BAC.

Are There Any Defenses for a DUI First Offense?

In California, there are several defenses that may be utilized to fight a DUI charge. It is common that the officer will point out the defendant’s physical appearance implied that they were under the influence. Some examples of such indications could include:

  • Red and/or watery eyes;
  • Slurred speech;
  • A flushed face;
  • The strong odor of alcoholic beverage; and/or
  • Unsteady on feet.

Such physical appearances as evidence of intoxication can be challenged by innocent explanations. This is due to the fact that the symptoms could be caused by other things such as allergies, sickness, or eye irritations. Other potential defenses that could be used to fight a DUI charge in California could include:

  • The field sobriety test that was administered was conducted improperly;
  • The PAS breathalyzer was not calibrated properly, and/or was faulty;
  • The officer did not conduct a proper fifteen minute observation period before the defendant’s breath test;
  • The defendant’s BAC was on the rise, and they were under the illegal BAC level at the time of driving; and/or
  • Diabetes and/or Hypoglycemia, or diet, falsely inflated the defendant’s BAC.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a DUI First Offense?

California has harsh penalties in place for DUIs, even for first time offenders. A skilled and knowledgeable California DUI lawyer can assist you in presenting any defenses that may be applicable in your case, as well as help you fight the DUI if possible.

An experienced local attorney can also help you restore your license, and avoid any potential license suspensions that the DMV could impose. Therefore, if you are facing a DUI first offense in California, it is important to contact a local DUI lawyer in order to ensure that your legal rights are protected.