Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is an offense taken seriously in California as well as throughout the country. Though the specifics of DUI laws and enforcement vary depending on which state you are in, there is no question that being caught driving under the influence can be detrimental to you, your lifestyle, and your permanent record.
Many people who go through DUI arrest and subsequent charges never imagined themselves in such a situation and feel helpless about what to do. Luckily, some of the area’s foremost DUI attorneys live and work in Riverside and are here to help you navigate the tricky waters of DUI charges and their ensuing legal battles.
Driving Under the Influence in Riverside
Because DUI legislation varies from state to state, it is important to understand what constitutes a DUI in your area. In Riverside County, driving under the influence of alcohol becomes illegal when any person of legal drinking age operates a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or higher. For those under the age of 21 or people on probation, a DUI is considered driving a motor vehicle with a BAC of .01% or higher. For taxi, Uber, or Lyft drivers driving a passenger for hire, the BAC to be considered a DUI is .04% or higher. Keep in mind that driving under the influence doesn’t exclusively mean alcohol. It is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana or even certain legally prescribed medications.
Potential Consequences of a DUI
DUI consequences vary widely depending on the state and the situation. For first time offenders who did not cause any property damage or injury, sentences are often lighter. For repeat offenders, sentences are often more severe. While specific sentences vary, here are the potential consequences for receiving a DUI in California:
- Suspension of license for six months
- Jail, with possible time ranging from 48 hours to 6 months
- Higher insurance rates, or company withdrawal of car insurance contracts altogether
- A felony misdemeanor on future background checks
- Employment termination or inability to be hired
- Ineligibility for scholarship programs or higher education enrollment
DUIs are taken extremely seriously in California, as reflected in the possible outcome of a DUI conviction. However, just because you experienced a DUI arrest does not mean any or all of these things will happen to you. There is a legal process that can potentially alter or minimize your sentence, especially if you are a first-time offender.
Is It Worth Hiring an Attorney for a DUI?
The answer to this question is a resounding yes. DUI cases are not taken lightly by the courts, with approximately 17% of Americans charged with a DUI in their lifetime. Because these cases are both serious and common, courts often have a standard of how to handle them. County and state courts often have set sentencing for DUI charges. They generally do not leave room for leniency without hearing a good argument for it. Without an experienced Riverside DUI attorney by your side, your chances of light or no sentencing are slim to none. If you do not hire an attorney for your case, it is nearly guaranteed that you will be charged, and the incident will remain on your record.
Knowledgeable DUI attorneys give you the best chance of receiving reduced charges and retaining driving privileges. Many people don’t realize that a DUI means license suspension or revocation of their driver’s license, which can result in an inability to drive or the need for a restrictive license, only allowing you the freedom to drive to and from work. Hiring a DUI lawyer is your best hope to avoid these penalties.
Is It Worth Taking a DUI Case to Trial?
Taking a DUI case to court depends entirely on the specific details of your case. About 98% of DUI cases plead guilty and settle on a plea bargain before the case is taken to trial. This results in a fine, a DUI on your record, and potential jail time. Many people avoid taking their DUI cases to trial because they believe that the breathalyzer test is enough to condemn them to being proven guilty. However, there are several reasons why this may not be true, and many such cases might benefit from a trial by jury. A few examples of when it is beneficial to take your DUI charge to trial are:
- There isn’t enough evidence against you
- Your breathalyzer test was faulty
- Your breathalyzer test was obtained in an abusive or illegal manner
- The officer did not have probable cause to stop you in the first place
- Your lawyer believes there is a strong case in your favor
Ultimately, your Riverside DUI Attorney will be able to tell you if there is a good chance that a DUI trial will result in lighter or no punishment than pleading guilty at the arraignment.
Can a First Time DUI Be Dismissed?
It is certainly possible for a first time DUI offense to be dismissed by the court. The logistics of such a dismissal are mostly dependent on what happened during the arrest and if any part of it is deemed unlawful or flawed. For example, if the police cite an invalid reason for pulling you over in the first place, your case might be discharged from the court. Other grounds for dismissal might be a faulty or ill administered breathalyzer test, in which case the prosecution’s main evidence would be invalidated, and the case likely dismissed.
The key to getting a first time DUI dismissed is to fight the charges. If there is any reason you believe that your DUI arrest meets any of these criteria, do not plead guilty. Take your case to trial. To determine if a case can be dropped, consult with a Riverside DUI attorney as soon as possible. If you find yourself arrested for a DUI, contact our firm.
How Likely Is Jail Time For a First DUI?
For a first time DUI, jail time is not a given, but it is not out of the question either. As with many aspects of DUI charges, the sentencing will depend on your specific situation. Legally speaking, a judge in California can order you to spend any amount of time in jail, ranging from two days to six months. The harshness of sentences often has to do with the severity of your inebriation and the extent (if any) of damage to property or other people. If there were fatalities resulting from your DUI, you can assume the sentencing will be more severe. In some situations, judges are lenient with first-time offenders and opt for probation instead of jail time. Probation can last up to three years in some cases and usually involves taking DUI classes.
The DUI Court Process for Riverside County
Outside of television shows and dramatic films, many people don’t know what happens when you go through an arrest or conviction. If you are going through your first DUI charge, the process from arrest to conviction and then to sentencing can seem foreign and overwhelming. There is a fairly standard process that DUI cases go through, and seeing the progress outlined can be reassuring. This is the general procedure and what to expect at each step.
Arraignment is an open court hearing where a judge will read your case and charges aloud. Once this is finished, you will state whether you plead “guilty” or “not guilty.” You can expect at this stage to hear your rights read aloud to you. If you are pleading “not guilty” and already have legal representation, they may ask that your case not be read aloud, and you may not have to be in attendance at all. If you are pleading not guilty, Arraignment is where your attorney will receive the prosecution’s evidence against you. This can potentially include:
- Breathalyzer test results
- Police reports
- Eyewitness accounts
- Any other evidence obtained during arrest
When your lawyer has obtained these materials, they are able to begin building the case in your favor and find places in which the prosecution’s argument is flawed.
- Pretrial Conference
The pretrial conference is held soon after arraignment and is a stage in which an appropriate plea deal may be struck between your attorney and the prosecution’s attorney. Most DUI cases are resolved during this phase. If the situation was relatively harmless for a DUI, i.e., nobody was hurt, no property damaged, and it’s a first offense, the prosecuting attorney may agree to a more favorable plea deal for you. Examples of more favorable plea deals include community service instead of jail time, a lower fine, and DUI classes. If you have had multiple DUIs, there may not be an appealing plea bargain available, and the case, if not settlement is reached, will move to trial. Pretrial conference is also the stage in which your attorney may file motions to make changes in your case. Motions include:
- Motion to dismiss due to insufficient or flawed evidence
- Motion to suppress evidence that has been obtained illegally
- Motion to recuse a judge if there is conflict of interest or bias present in the one assigned
Most of the changes to your case as a whole occur within the pretrial conference period. This is where it’s possible to receive plea deals that reflect the severity of your incident and be granted moderate clemency for a first-time offense.
- DUI Trial
The final stage of the process, if your case doesn’t settle beforehand, is the trial. DUI cases often reach the trial phase for three reasons:
- There is evidence against the prosecution that was not settled in a plea deal
- Your attorney believes details of your case will sway a jury in your favor
- This is a severe or repeat DUI, and no plea bargain was struck
In these situations, the case moves to a standard trial by jury of your peers. These trials often last between five days and two weeks but can go longer if a jury cannot reach a unanimous decision. Often, the arresting officer will be asked to testify at the trial, as well as anyone involved in processing the BAC tests or samples acting as evidence. You may be asked to testify as well, but your lawyer will advise if this is the case.
- After Trial
Whether you win or lose during your trial, the terms will be spelled out clearly by the court. If you lose at trial, the court is not obligated to adhere to any plea deals that you rejected during the pretrial conference. Your attorney will help you debrief accordingly and understand the terms and results of the trial and what they mean for you going forward.
The ‘Wet Reckless’ Plea Option
One of the most common plea deals struck for first-time offenders is what is called a Wet Reckless. Wet Reckless plea bargains indicate a DUI on a record but have much less severe consequences. A Wet Reckless is different from a DUI charge in that:
- There is no court-mandated license suspension, though the DMV may still revoke the license, depending on policy.
- The range of allowable jail time for a wet reckless is 5-90 days instead of 48 hours-6 months for a DUI.
- Probation lasts only one to two years instead of upwards of three.
- Wet reckless arrests call for shorter terms for mandated DUI courses
- The fines for a Wet Reckless in California start at $145 rather than $390
- There is no DUI charge on your record for a DUI that was minimized to a wet reckless
Though a wet reckless is still a reckless driving charge, the consequences are significantly less severe. Depending on your situation, your attorney may advise settling for a wet reckless charge rather than pleading not guilty or taking the case to trial.
Expungement of DUI Charges
If you do end up having a DUI on your record, it is possible to get it removed after your probation period is over, and all your requirements have been met. The process for a misdemeanor, which is often the case for first-time offenses, takes about three to four months and costs $650. For felony offenses, which usually means a record containing multiple DUI charges, you may downgrade to a misdemeanor on your record.
This process takes a similar amount of time and costs $850. There is no statute of limitations for a DUI record in the state of California, which is to say that at no point will a DUI “drop off” your record. The only way to expunge your record is to appear before the court with a Riverside attorney present. If approved, the DUI will no longer appear on background checks to future employers. However, getting your DUI expunged will not remove it from your DMV record, and you must continue to behave in accordance with the DMV regulations.
Not All Riverside DUI Attorneys Are Created Equal
When facing DUI charges specifically, it’s imperative to not only have an attorney but to have the right attorney. Though many attorneys could take on a DUI case, it is absolutely in your best interest to hire one who specializes in DUI law in your county. Because laws can be compounded with local laws and restrictions, it is advantageous to find a lawyer with significant experience in DUI law in your area specifically.
This ensures you are represented by someone who knows the ins and outs of both state and county DUI laws and can give you the most accurate legal advice for your situation. If you are unable to afford a lawyer at the time of your conviction, one will be assigned to you. However, the lawyer assigned to you will be a public defender. Public defenders are famously stretched thin, and it’s unlikely that they will have the time or resources to spend significant time and care on your case. If possible, it is in your best interest to research and hire a lawyer with significant DUI law experience.
The Law Offices of Schwartz & Godbey
The Law Offices of Schwartz & Godbey employs the foremost Riverside DUI Attorneys. With over 30 years of experience in Riverside County, Catherine A. Schwartz and her associates are unparalleled in their protection of the rights of Riverside County residents. Our firm is passionate about this area of law and uses this passion to give neighbors peace of mind when it comes to legal matters. DUI law is an integral part of what we do, and we know the DUI laws of Riverside County and California inside and out.
There is absolutely no DUI situation that we do not treat with kindness, understanding, and commitment. Our founding principle is that everyone deserves respect, regardless of their situation. We have a commitment to standing up for your rights and making sure you are represented fairly and adequately. Contact us today for help with your DUI charges in San Bernardino or Riverside Counties. We offer free consultations and are ready to help with any of your legal questions.