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Did You Get a DUI over the Holidays?

You had a little too much to drink during a holiday party and got behind the wheel of your car. Before you knew it, you were pulled over and arrested by a police officer for driving under the influence.

As soon as you get out of jail and the dust settles, what should you do?

First of all, it’s vitally important to understand that, in California, an arrest for DUI creates two separate cases – a DMV case and a criminal case. Your offense puts your driving privilege at risk—and remember, this is a privilege granted by the state you live in. No one has an inherent right to drive.

Request a DMV hearing

In general, an arrest for a DUI means you must surrender your driver’s license to the arresting officer and, in return, you should receive a temporary (“administrative per se”) license (good for, in most cases, thirty (30) days).  My advice is to talk to a lawyer immediately about the possibility of  requesting a DMV hearing to appeal this action.

You have ten (10) days from the date of arrest to request that the DMV review your case and determine if a suspension is warranted. (And when the law says “10 days,” it means 10 days.) If you fail to make this request, your license will be suspended anywhere from four (4) months (typical for the first-time offender) to a complete revocation of your license. Requesting a hearing can delay the suspension of your license and require the DMV to further substantiate the suspension, so you want to review your options with a lawyer as quickly as possible.

Criminal proceedings

 An arrest for DUI also sets a criminal proceeding in motion. Generally speaking, in California, a DUI is usually charged as a misdemeanor. Certain circumstances can raise this to a felony, such as seriously injuring or even killing a pedestrian while driving under the influence. Being convicted of a DUI will result in one or more of the following:

  •  Substantial fines
  • Required class attendance
  • Public work service
  • The requirement that you install and use an ignition-lock device (sort of a breathalyzer to start your car)
  • Jail time

In San Diego, initial hearings or arraignments on DUI cases are typically set for 45-60 days after the arrest—giving you plenty of time to consult with an attorney about your options. You want to get clarification on your rights and explore any mitigating circumstances that might assist in your defense in court (or at least earn you a more favorable plea-bargain opportunity).

A lawyer can also let you know what to expect during the process and how this might affect the rest of your life.

My Best Advice – Don’t do it!

Considering the amount of time, stress and money a DUI conviction can cost you is, my best advice is—Don’t drive while intoxicated. You could end up spending as much as $10,000 to $20,000 in attorney fees, fines, license suspension, etc. A DUI conviction impacts your record for 10 years or longer.

Given all this, isn’t it preferable to hand over the car keys to a friend or family member who’s sober (or just call a taxi) and avoid all this mess?

What to Do If You’re Pulled over for a DUI

What to Do If You’re Pulled over for a DUI

The best advice I give my clients about avoiding arrest and conviction for a drunk-driving charge is simple: Don’t drink and drive.

Unfortunately, there are many people out there who fail to heed this simple advice. In these cases, there are a few important guidelines to keep in mind should you be among those pulled over by a law enforcement officer suspecting you of driving under the influence.

Be polite, calm and compliant with your actions. If an officer “lights you up” or otherwise indicates that you should pull over, choose a safe, well-lighted place to do so. Signal your intention and come to a stop. Keep your hands on the wheel where they are clearly visible.

Although it’s a stressful situation, you’ll do yourself a big favor by remaining calm and polite. Wait to reach for your license and registration until the officer requests you to do so. In everything you say, be polite and respectful.

Don’t answer questions. At the officer’s request, you are required to hand over your license, registration and insurance information. You are not legally obligated to answer any questions regarding how much you’ve had to drink, how fast you were driving, etc. In fact, anything you do say can be used against you.

If, for example, you’ve had four drinks and you tell the officer you only had one, you’ve just lied and damaged your credibility. Your best response to questions is simple: “I’ve been told by my lawyer not to answer these questions and I don’t wish to do so at this time.”

You have the right to decline a field sobriety test. The officer will ask you to complete a series of field sobriety tests (e.g. walking a straight line, estimating an amount of time in your head, etc.). You are not required by law to take any such tests. While you risk the possibility of irritating the officer, it is important to remember that these tests may be hard to successfully complete while you are sober and therefore tend to be set up for you to fail in the first place. Additionally, you are not required to blow into the hand-held breath device at the scene (Preliminary Alcohol Screening device – PAS). These devices are considered highly unreliable and just tend to give the officer another reason to arrest you.

Blood Alcohol Testing. If arrested for drunk driving, you will be subjected to a test to determine your blood alcohol level. California law sets out that you must submit to a blood alcohol test if arrested for drunk driving. If you refuse, the penalties of an eventual DUI conviction will be much worse, including mandatory jail-time and a possible one-year suspension of your driver’s license. That being said, you will get to choose one of 3 such tests: breath, blood, or urine. I personally would go with a blood test for several reasons, including that the law enforcement agency is required to maintain the blood sample throughout your case and you will be given the chance to re-test it, using your own expert, which may provide different, more favorable results on your blood alcohol level –neither breath (which provides no captured sample) nor urine (which has a limited shelf life as to the blood alcohol content) will give you such an opportunity to re-test.

Make your phone call count. Call a friend or family member as soon as possible from the police station. If possible, have someone else hear you speaking clearly and logically, so as to disprove any later charge of “slurred speech.”

One more point to make with respect to a DUI charge:

In California, there are two vehicle codes usually affiliated with a drunk driving charge. Under California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a), the charge of driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol doesn’t require a specific amount of alcohol to appear in your chemical test. California Vehicle Code Section 23152(b), on the other hand, specifies driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher. In other words, even if you think you haven’t had so much to drink that you are “over the legal limit”, you can still be arrested and prosecuted.

Finally, if you are arrested for drunk driving, make sure to promptly contact an attorney to go over to your rights and options, some of which require immediate action be taken. In a future blog post, we’ll discuss your options concerning the suspension of your license and your rights to challenge that suspension. For now, as noted earlier, if you plan to drink, have someone else do the driving.

Just got arrested for drunk driving or have any questions regarding the above topic? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offers a free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from DUIs, bankruptcy, debt collection defense, estate planning, family law, and other civil matters.

Don’t Celebrate the Holidays Behind Bars

A funny thing happens to people around this time of year. Although normally they’re very careful not to drink and drive, or they at least keep track of how much they imbibe throughout an evening—at a holiday party, they throw caution to the wind and just “get in the holiday spirit.” What sometimes happens is they leave the party a lot more intoxicated than they think they are—which is fine if there’s someone much more sober to drive them home. If they decide to get behind the wheel themselves, that’s when trouble starts.

Everyone already knows about the dangers of driving while intoxicated, but here are two factors to consider as we celebrate the holidays:

  • There’s a lot more social drinking at this time of year, as opposed to the average amount of alcohol people typically consume, say, having a couple of beers over the course of a football game.
  • In response to this fact, law enforcement is much more alert to potential criminal behavior and far more likely to apprehend a person who makes the simple—but potentially fatal—mistake of drinking too much at the office holiday party.

If you haven’t encountered a police DUI checkpoint, here’s what happens. A street is blocked off by law enforcement, cars are obliged to slow down as they pass through and police officers conduct random stops to check on a driver’s possible intoxication. Often these checkpoints appear in areas where there’s a cluster of bars or a neighborhood well-known for college parties. These checkpoints can be established at any given time or place—and if you’ve had one too many and you get behind the wheel, there’s a good chance you’ll be apprehended.

What are the consequences of a DUI arrest and conviction? If you’re found guilty of an alcohol-related event, you can face many severe sanctions, including but not limited to court fines and fees totaling $1,000 or more (as well as legal fees and the costs of court-ordered programs), the possible suspension of your driver’s license (from four months to a couple of years), the impounding of your vehicle for up to 30 days and a possible jail sentence.

As you can see, the consequences far outweigh the temporary pleasures of “letting your hair down” at a holiday party.

Anyone who drinks, socially or otherwise, is susceptible to drinking to excess during the holidays. You can lose track of how much you’ve consumed, or maybe you drink too much on an empty stomach, or maybe you forget you’re taking cold medicine which, when mixed with alcohol, can easily put you over the top.

If you plan to celebrate at a friend’s holiday party, it’s best if you can show up with alternate plans (to you driving) to get yourself home. That way, you won’t end up celebrating behind bars.

Are you in need of legal counseling? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offer free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from DUI/criminal defense, bankruptcy, family law and estate planning to traffic violations and landlord/tenant disputes.