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Tough California DUI Laws

The most frequent violent crime committed in California is driving while under the influence of alcohol. The statistics are appalling.

California has an unenviable record of having the highest number of wrongful deaths caused by drunk drivers. In fact, the statistics show that on average, every year, over 42,000 people are killed in alcohol-related crashes nationwide. In California, the yearly number of those killed in crashes is 4,229, with 36% of those being alcohol-related deaths or 1,509; a staggering number of needless deaths.

It would then make sense that the laws in the Golden State are as tough as the dickens and that California leads the nation in DUI arrests. Law enforcement is deadly serious about stopping drunk drivers from killing others. Thanks to the state having two statutory offenses for DUI, it is easier to make more arrests.

The first offense is called DWI, DUI or OWI, meaning driving while intoxicated or impaired, driving under the influence or operating a vehicle while impaired. No matter what it is called, charges laid for these offenses are based on police observations that include slurring while talking, driving erratically and possibly a roadside sobriety test. Other things will likely happen at the same time and they may include immediate suspension, a field sobriety test and checking ignition interlocking devices installed in the vehicle (if any).

The second offense is referred to as being “illegal per se.” This simply means that a person is driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher. This has actually been an offense since 2002 in all 50 states.

The thing to remember about going to court in California is that offenders may find themselves facing a wide variety of penalties depending on the charges, e.g. causing death, personal or property damage and injury. Generally speaking, a first-time offender may face jail time and/or probation from three to five years, pay a fine and lose his or her license for six months. This tends to vary with the specifics of the case and each case is different given the circumstances, so “one shoe does not fit all” when it comes to punishment on conviction.

Second offenses within seven years of the first offense may face more jail time, fines of up to $10,000 and suspension of driving privileges for not less than three years. Again, the facts of the case will make the difference in how it is handled when or if it does get to court.

Interestingly enough, there are two schools of thought on automatically finding drivers guilty. Some attorneys feel a driver then loses his or her right to have a trial by jury. On the other hand, there are lawyers who argue that legal per se is a preventative measure to stop a drunk driving death every 30 minutes. Suffice it to say that the “jury” is still out on this issue and in the meantime, the DUI justice system carries on.

If the convicted offender chooses to continue to drink and drive, each subsequent offense nets longer jail terms and higher fines. If that person hits his or her fourth charge, this is considered to be a felony DUI. Felony DUIs definitely require the expertise of a skilled attorney.