How to Face Drive Under the Influence Claim in California?

by | Mar 15, 2024 | Personal Injury

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What is Driving Under the Influence?

When you encounter the word drive under the influence (DUI) or driving while impaired (DWI), before anything else alcohol would perk up in your mind. DUI does not just denote alcohol.

Any controlled substance could be factored in as a DUI if it impairs the driving skill of an individual. Controlled substances include any drug, substance, or immediate precursor listed by the Federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This would comprise illegal drugs, legal over-the-counter and prescription drugs like painkillers, stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, anabolic steroids, etc.

As per the 2019 Annual Report of the California DUI Management Information System, in 2017, crash fatalities due to alcohol-impaired driving and drug-impaired driving increased by 5.8% and 13.1% respectively. The number of drive under the influence claims being filed every year is on the spike.

Drive under the influence (DUI) and/or driving while intoxicated/impaired (DWI) are criminal driving offenses and should not be taken casually. The case may become more entangled when the driving under the influence case involves

  • an accident
  • a death
  • a child in the vehicle

To Drive Under the Influence of Alcohol

According to the California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) It is “unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle”. It all depends upon the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) in the driver.

BAC is a measurement of the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream of an individual. It is basically the grams of alcohol present in every 100 milliliters of blood.

BAC is usually quantified by two methods.

  1. Breath Test
  2. Blood Test

Both of these methods are legally accepted when it comes to driving under the influence of alcohol. There is a BAC limit set by the law for alcohol-impaired driving. Let us see the legal BAC limits applicable to each group of drivers in California.

  • Adult drivers (non-commercial vehicles)- 0.08%
  • Underage drivers- 0.05%
  • Commercial drivers- 0.04%
  • Taxi, limo, and ride-sharing drivers- 0.04%

An individual with the above-mentioned blood alcohol level is legally considered unfit to get behind the wheel.

1. DUI Breath Test

A breath test is carried out by blowing into a breath analyzer which quantifies the alcohol present in the deepest part of the lungs. This is reflected in the blood alcohol level using the method of ‘partition ratio’.

DUI Breath tests in California could be divided into two categories. They are

  • Pre-arrest preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) tests

It is usually done at a traffic stop or a DUI sobriety checkpoint before the arrest of an individual for DUI charges.

  • Post-arrest DUI breath tests

As the name indicates, post-arrest DUI tests are carried out after an arrest. One must be mindful that, refusing the DUI breath test could land up in an automatic suspension of the driver’s license for a minimum of one year.

2. DUI Blood Test

A blood test for drive under the influence involves the lab analysis of the blood sample collected from the driver. It directly measures the blood alcohol level. However, the results may not be instant as a breath test. The advantage of blood tests is that the attorneys of the suspected may collect a part of the blood sample and carry out independent tests to check for alcohol concentration in the blood.

Consequences of Drink and Drive in California

The following are the legal aftermath of driving under the influence California.

  • Charges of misdemeanor
  • Charges of felony
  • 3 to 5 years of probation
  • A penalty of $390.00 to $1000.00
  • Suspension of driver’s license for six months to three years
  • DUI school (an alcohol education program from the California Department of Motor Vehicles)
  • Being ordered to install Ignition Interlock Device (IID)- a breathalyzer that prevents the vehicle from starting when alcohol is detected.
  • Increase in auto insurance premiums
  • Jail time

California’s Admin Per Se

Since 2011, California has implemented strong policies to handle driving under influence accidents and claims.

The state follows two systems to condemn California drive under the influence cases. They are

  1. Criminal penalty
  2. California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)

DMV is the government agency that is responsible for the issuing and cancellation of driving privileges in the US. Each state DMV controls the respective state.

As soon as an individual is arrested for DUI, his Driver’s license would immediately be suspended in California. This is called administrative suspension, or simply admin per se (APS).

A notice would be issued to the accused which would serve as a temporary driver’s license for the next 30 days. Within 10 days of receiving the notice, the accused should schedule an APS hearing which would be presided by a DMV Hearing Officer. He would submit a Notice of Findings and Decision which is an official report of the hearing.

The driver may win or lose the hearing depending upon the case. If the driver loses the case, penalties like installing an IID, DUI school, suspension or revocation of the driving privilege for a specified period etc. may be the result.

To Drive Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID)

Driving under the influence of drugs is as serious as driving under the influence of alcohol. California Vehicle Code §23152 addresses DUID. Reports suggest that in 2018, 42% of all drivers killed in motor vehicle accidents, tested positive for legal and/ or illegal drugs.

Unlike drunk and drive, drugged driving does not need a certain concentration of drugs in the bloodstream of the driver. Any amount of drug in the blood sample could lead to a DUID charge.

Now the question is, what does a drug refer to?

Let it be an illicit drug like cocaine or heroin, medicinal or recreational marijuana, over-the-counter medication, or a medication prescribed by your physician, if it impairs your driving it leads to a DUID charge.

Drugs affect the nervous system and the muscles of the driver resulting in impaired driving. Driving under the influence of marijuana interferes with the attentiveness, and perception of time and speed of the driver.

It is always advisable to check the label of any new medication that you take. Have a discussion with your physician when any medication is prescribed to you. Any mention of not driving or physical impairment needs to be considered seriously.

It is to be noted that the synergistic effect of multiple medications on the brain could be unpredictable which could affect someone’s ability to drive a vehicle. However, taking prescription medication according to a physician’s advice cannot be presented as a valid legal excuse in a drive under the influence case.

When an individual is suspected to drive under the influence of drugs, he would be subjected to a Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) test. Once the presence of alcohol is ruled out, objective signs of drug use are monitored which are as follows

  • Red and watery eyes
  • Slurred, or rapid speech
  • Excessive sweating
  • White pasty tongue
  • Rapid pulse
  • Poor performance on field sobriety tests

The driver may be arrested based on the above signs and would be referred for a blood test or urine test to determine the presence and concentration of drugs in the individual’s body. The driver would be evaluated by a drug recognition expert (DRE) who will prepare a report which is very crucial in a DUID case.

Consequences of Drugged Driving in California

The penalties and the after-effects of drug-impaired driving would vary depending upon the number of times the individual has been arrested for the same offense. An individual convicted a fourth time for a DUID offense would be charged with a felony and his driver’s license would be suspended for the next four years.

Unlike with a drive under the influence of alcohol case, a DUID offense may be conditional as some prescription drugs would make the individual tired and may impair driving

A DUID offense may end with the following consequences.

  • A minimum fine amount of $390
  • DUI school
  • Probation
  • Suspension of driver’s license for a minimum of six months
  • Getting an ignition interlock device installed in the vehicle
  • Declaration as habitual traffic offender after the second offense of DUID in 10 years
  • Jail sentence

Drug possession and being under the influence of narcotics could be added, thereby increasing the penalties.

How Does an Attorney Help in a DUI Case?

An individual with a history of prior DUI cases may face serious penalties. Any drive under the influence offense in the last 10 years would be legally recorded and would gain you points. More points would make you declared a habitual traffic offender.

DUI charges not only fetch you penalties but also affect your life. It may cripple your job applications, school admissions, and financial aid.

The faster you proceed legally; it would help you fight the license suspension by DMV. You have 10 days to request a hearing to challenge the suspension. Failing to do so would cause your license to get suspended for 30 days. Getting legal assistance would help you proceed on time.

You don’t have to be on pins and needles about facing a drive under the influence case. Hiring an expert DUI attorney would help your drive under the influence charge even dropped or be dismissed if it lacks strong evidence. He would help you minimize the charges and face the case without hurdles.

How to Defend a Driving Under the Influence Claim?

Even a rock-solid drive under the influence case could be made simple with a skilled personal injury attorney. The following points may be used to defend the offense.

  • The individual under the influence was not driving the vehicle
  • The officer did not follow proper legal protocols
  • Error in the BAC test
  • Proving that mouth alcohol like cough syrup or mouthwash has led to a high BAC
  • A rise in the level of BAC need not indicate that the alcohol level was high during the length of the drive. It takes a few hours for the alcohol to get absorbed into the bloodstream
  • Impaired driving need not always reflect a DUID. The individual could also be tired because of his medical condition
  • No signs of mental impairment
  • Medical conditions like hypoglycemia, diabetes or a high Protein Diet could mimic high BAC


Driving under the influence is not only a threat to your safety but also to others on the road. Do not grab the key of your vehicle if you are under the influence of alcohol, or drugs.

Better not to refuse a test when suspected of a drive under the influence. When you get a driver’s license in California, you give “implied consent” to submit to a breath or blood test if arrested for a DUI.

To drive under the influence could end up in a permanent criminal record and take its toll on your driving privileges. It would be a catch-22 unless you get the support of an experienced DUI lawyer.

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