Getting Busted: California's DUI laws

Often we think of California as an easy-going, liberal state where rules are as lazy as the beach-bound teenagers in the summertime. However, California imposes a set of very strict punishments on its DUI offenders.

When a person is charged with driving under the influence, or a DUI, in the state of California, a criminal case and a Department of Motor Vehicles case are both triggered. Additionally, the California criminal case is bifurcated into what DUI attorneys call an "A count" and a "B count."

The A count is a charge for driving under the influence of drug(s) or alcohol to the extent that they are incapable of driving the car with the same care and caution as "a sober person, of ordinary prudence." The court uses the standard of a sober, reasonable person under the same circumstances.

The B count is a per se charge based on chemical evidence. This means that the charge cannot be argued against because the physical evidence is dispositive. If a person is tested and shows a blood alcohol level (BAC) of more than .08%, he or she is charged with a violation of the California vehicle code. This charge is based only on the results of chemical tests and cannot be contested with a showing of ability to drive or perform field sobriety tests. A showing of blood alcohol at .08% or higher is a per se violation in the state of California.

The two criminal charges are treated as one for the purposes of punishment, but they are different charges at law and a lawyer will treat each one separately for purposes of defense.

In addition, the DUI will become a felony if the driver injures anyone besides himself in an incident related to his intoxication. If the driver is under 21, he or she will be subject to California's very strict "zero tolerance" policy for young DUI offenders. The BAC level for those under 21 is .01%, and anyone who drives a car with .01% or more blood alcohol has committed a per se violation of California law. Offenders under the age of 21 will also lose their licenses for one year.

For those who are of legal drinking age, California imposes a ten year period from the first DUI. A fourth offense during this period will be categorized as a felony. After ten years, the DUI offenses begin to "fall off."

Still, California's DUI punishments are stringent. The California DMV will conduct a hearing after the DUI arrest. A first time offense carries a license revocation minimum of four months, with a two-year revocation at the third offense. However, if an arrestee refuses to submit to some form of BAC testing, either blood, breath, or urine, then the DMV will increase its punishment and restrict of revoke the offender's license for a greater length of time.

Although a first offense in California does not carry any mandatory jail time, additional defenses carry mandatory sentences and lengthy alcohol education programs as well.