California DUI law is similar in many respects to DUI law in the rest of the country. For one thing, every state DUI law in the country shares the same format with California DUI Law–they are all based on two alternative counts. That means that you are charged with two separate crimes, however because these are alternative counts, you can only be convicted on one of them.
Of the two counts, the first is called the “driving under the influence” or DUI count, and the other is called the “per se” count.
The DUI count makes it against the law to drive under the influence of alcohol. The “per se” count makes it against the law to drive with a BAC of 0.08 or higher.
In California courtrooms you will hear these counts referred to by the judge and the attorneys as:
- the “a” count, for Vehicle Code Section 23152(a)–the DUI count;
- and the “b” count, for Vehicle Code section 23152(b)– the “per se” count.
You will find these two counts– 23152(a) and 23152(b) –referred to time and again in the various Vehicle Code sections that deal with California DUIs.
If you are unfortunate enough to be arrested on federal land, you will have to appear in Federal District Court. Check this short blog on Federal DUI Law.
California DUI Laws
Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is a serious crime. It can result in jail time, probation, fines, license suspension, and DUI school. The following is a brief overview of California DUI laws. It covers the different laws that you can be charged with violating. It is anything but exhaustive. With that understanding, here is a short overview of California DUI laws including what you can be charged with and the various enhancements to those crimes.
The most common violations of the Vehicle Code that involve DUI are:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. VC 23152 (a) makes it illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Contrary to common belief, people are commonly charged in criminal court with a DUI when their BAC is 0.06 or higher. If your BAC is 0.05 you will get a pass. If higher, but below 0.08, you can be charged with a violation of VC 23152(a). This section of the law is commonly called the “a count.”
- Driving with a BAC of 0.08 or higher: VC 23152 (b) makes it against the law to drive with a BAC of 0.08 or higher even if you are not under the influence of alcohol. 23152(b) is commonly called the “per se” section, also referred to as the “b count”.
- Driving a commercial vehicle with a BAC of 0.04% or higher. Vehicle Code section 23152(d). This is the toughest count, since it results in the hardest suspension. 23152(d) only applies to drivers of commercial vehicles.
- Driving with a BAC of 0.05 or higher if you are under the age of 21. Vehicle Code Section 23140. DUI laws tend to be stricter the younger you get. If you are charged with a violation of 23140, you are looking at a loss of your license for one year.
- Driving with a BAC of 0.01 or higher if you are under the age of 18.
- Driving while addicted to any drug and not participating in any lawfully approved narcotics treatment program. Vehicle Code section 23152(c). This section is rarely used. I have only seen it used once by the DMV in the past ten years against a guy who had multiple drug convictions. Note that 23152(c) is a criminal count, although it can be used by the DMV to suspend your license even if there is no criminal charge for a violation of 23152(c)
Depending on the seriousness of the DUI you are ch with, the law can up the ante. The seriousness of any DUI is going to be based on the following factors:
- Priors: Do you have any prior DUI convictions within the prior 10 years? Second DUIs typically result in additional work release, suspensions and IID installations. Third and Fourth DUIs will result in serious jail time along with suspensions or revocations of your driving privilege.
- Child endangerment: If you are driving under the influence with a child fourteen years or younger, you should expect a stricter sentence including a referral to child protective services.
- DUI with injuries: If you are DUI and involved in an accident that causes injuries to someone other than yourself, then this could be serious. Check your Notice to Appear (that the officer gave you). If you are charged with a violation of Vehicle Code Section 23153(a) or 23153(b) then you need to consult an attorney immediately. DUIs with injuries are called “wobblers” under 23153(a) or 23153(b) which means that they can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies. If the injury to another person involved “great bodily injury”, or “GBI” then expect a felony charge.
- You are young: One of the cruelties inflicted on the youth is the tendency of our courts to treat young people more harshly. Although there is no long that mandates stricter treatment, the simple fact is that 22 year olds will get stiffer sentences than 60 year olds, all other things being equal.
- Speeding: If you are driving 30 miles over the posted speed limit on a freeway, or 20 miles over the posted speed limit on a city street, then you will be facing 60 days straight time in county jail.
- Refusal: If you are suspected of driving under the influence, you have to agree to a chemical breath or blood test. Any “refusal” to do so can result in a one-year hard suspension of your license in addition to the suspension for the DUI itself. If your license is important to you, then this is a serious enhancement. Courts also dislike refusal cases and typically add time to your sentence in addition to the license suspension.
- BAC is 0.15 or higher: High BACs always add time and can add additional months of DUI school. Time varies from county to county. Check with your local public defender. DUI school for a 0.15 also varies from county to county. In some counties (Alameda and Contra Costa Counties for example) you will be required to complete a six month DUI course (rather than the standard three month program.) Other counties (Santa Clara, for example) do not have a six month program so you can get away with the three month program.
- BAC is 0.20 or higher: Bottom-line here is 9 months of DUI school and additional time.
Sentences can also be enhanced if you are a minor, if someone is injured (which can be charged as a felony resulting in prison time), if you had prior DUI convictions, if you refused to take a chemical test, if you had a minor under the age of 14 in the car or if you had a BAC of 0.20% or higher. If you are convicted of a DUI it will appear on your criminal record causing you to lose your job, negatively impact on educational opportunities, lose custody of your child in a divorce action, and/or make it more difficult to rent an apartment. And, as if this wasn’t enough, a DUI can also result in significantly higher automobile insurance premiums.